In hard-hit Vermont, families of Iraq and Afghanistan war dead pitch in to build memorial

BARRE, Vt. (AP) — With its carved images of falling maple leaves, a rifle-toting citizen soldier and the state Capitol, a war monument taking shape under the hand of granite sculptor Ken Maurice has Vermont written all over it.

It should: Vermont has suffered a terrible toll in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, losing 36 men who were either native sons, transplanted ones or former cadets at Norwich University military college.

The monument isn't in place yet, but will be soon.

On Sunday, the GIs' family members will help break ground on the Vermont Fallen Heroes Global War on Terror Memorial, to be built at the state veterans' cemetery in Randolph Center. Funded with private donations raised largely by the families, the $350,000 monument is aimed at marking both the sacrifice of those who served and the heartbreak of the loved ones left behind.

"I feel like all 36 of them are my son," said Marion Gray, 63, of East Calais, the stepmother of late Army National Guard Sgt. Jamie Gray. "This is a way to help us heal. Our main goal, all along, was "lest they be forgotten."

Unlike other wars, for which memorials are generally erected in the aftermath, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have prompted the construction of war memorials while the fighting is still occurring. Dozens have been built, from Jackson, Mich., to Fort Bragg, N.C.

Vermont already has one, in fact. In 2008, the National Guard erected a memorial to 11 of its men lost in Iraq fighting.

With a population of about 621,000, the state's losses in the Iraq war — 22 men, by the Pentagon's count — give it the highest per-capita death rate of any state, at 3.54 per 100,000 people (as of January). Many died in 2006 in fighting in and around Ramadi, their losses driven home by tearful small-town funerals and half-staff flags.

And while the state is known more for its liberal politics than its military traditions, support for troops and their families has been strident.

"There's just been an outpouring of support, regardless of anyone's position on the war and whether we should be there," said Rick Brehm, a member of the board of directors for the Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation, which dedicated its memorial in 2008. "The support for the people serving has never been greater. It's part of that Vermont yankee tradition. It's what Vermonters do."

The new Global War on Terror memorial began as an idea among family members and took off with commitments of cash and in-kind services. Some gave money, services or discounts for their services. Among them: Rock of Ages quarry, in Barre; Granite Industries of Vermont; and Granite Corp. of Barre.

Made from Barre gray granite, the memorial will encompass a 40-by-45-foot area, with several elements:

— A field memorial called "Falling Leaves," consisting of a semicircular pedestal with an M-16 rifle, combat boots, helmet and dog tags, and relief carvings of maple leaves, the citizen soldier and the Statehouse.

— A sarcophagus with the names of the 36 — and space for more — etched on top.

— Three monoliths — one for those who served, one dedicated to the families of the fallen and another containing a bronze plaque.

"I can't imagine there will ever be another monument that has this amount of meaning to me," said designer Dana Morisette, head of drafting and design at Granite Industries of Vermont, who donated the original design. "You go in thinking you're going to give something back, but (family members) end up giving you more than you could ever pay back."

Construction of the memorial will continue through the summer, with a planned dedication on Veterans Day, on Nov. 11.

Building it now — instead of after the wars end — makes sense, says Ray DeGiovine, whose 25-year-old son, a Marine Corps corporal, was killed in Anbar province in 2007.

"Most of us will be dead by the time this war is over," said DeGiovine, 66, of Essex. "This is going to be with us for a while. It might not have an end like Armistice Day."



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