Brule remembers the price of war

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Basalt boulders from the heart of the Brule area will be the centerpiece of a proposed memorial that focuses on "The Price of War" — one for each conflict from the Civil War to the current war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Some people call this a peace memorial, and I guess this is," said Paul Helbach of Brule, a Vietnam veteran and chairman of the war memorial committee. "The stones, to my thinking, are symbolic of the weight and the gravity of war."

The plan calls for each stone to bear a plaque listing the numbers: Those killed in action, wounded in action, missing in action and the refugees. The numbers would reflect all sides of the conflict, not just the United States troops.

"That's always a piece that seems to be missing when we try to convey the price of war," said Helbach, who served in the U.S. Navy and was attached to the Marine Corps as a medic. "That's why it's called the Price of War Memorial ... there's a price."

The numbers for the war on terror would remain blank, as they are ongoing.

An alternate vision for the memorial would place the plaques on headstones ringing a central element — either piled stones or a cement culvert packed with local momentoes — in addition to the ring of Volkswagen beetle-sized stones.

The memorial would be erected at the Brule Town Park, also known as Lions Park, between the Memorial Gardens and a stand of trees.

The central element would also hold five cast iron sculptures by Duluth artist David Asher Everett, uniforms from each branch of the military incorporating local artifacts donated by families.

The memorial was first proposed by Bonnie Trapp, a member of the Brule River Lions Club.

"I had quite a few relatives in World War II, a couple in World War I, but I had a lot of friends who went to Vietnam," she said. "The way they were treated when they came back sort of bothered me. They didn't ask to go there, they were told to go."

She sought a way to recognize veterans and remind the next generation.

"I just think it's important for the young people to know, to see this," Trapp said. "These people, they sacrificed a lot for us."

Helbach tweaked the vision to make it a place for quiet contemplation.

"I counseled veterans for over 30 years, literally hundreds of veterans," he said, as a trauma therapist with the Department of Veterans Affairs. "Those guys wouldn't necessarily relate to the typical veteran memorial, they would say it's too much hoo-rah-rah."

A self-professed "human glacier," Helbach incorporated his love of rocks into the theme, and intentionally made it universal, "remembering those we lost without putting the list of names up."

The Lake Nebagamon Armed Services Tribute, erected earlier this year, already covers that area well, he said.

The memorial committee is made up of Lions Club members, and the memorial would be placed at the park they have built up. Is it a fitting project for the group?

"I think it's a very good deal," said club Vice President Myron Olson. "The lions are out to help everybody we can."

Known for its vision-related activities, the group has a broad reach in the community.

The Brule River group hosts an annual barbecue and 5-mile walk/run. Half the proceeds from the walk/run go into a scholarship fund for Northwestern High School students. The rest is earmarked for local people in need, whether they lost a house in a fire or are battling cancer. The group also host benefits for community members when a need arises.

Honoring those who served makes sense for the organization, Olson said, and it's personal.

Olson worked side-by-side with a lot of Word War II veterans when his father and uncle owned Olson Brothers Contractors Inc. of Brule. His brother Theodore was an Army veteran who served in Germany, France and Switzerland during the Vietnam Era.

"What they sacrificed, we've got to recognize them," said Olson, who is now retired.

The business, now in the hands of the third generation, is already backing the project.

"Olson Brothers Contractors has been unbelievably supportive of this," Helbach said. "They're providing the rocks. They're going to be providing the transportation. They're even going to be doing the placement for us."

He estimated the cost for the memorial at up to $20,000. It would have been double that without the Brule business' support, Helbach said.

After a year of planning, the first fundraiser for the proposed memorial takes place Nov. 10 at the Kro Bar in Brule.

The benefit kicks off with a silent auction at 6:30 p.m., followed by music by "Formal Age" and "Born Too Late" beginning at 7:30 p.m.

A $5 donation is requested per person, and every veteran or active-duty personnel will receive a free drink.

To donate items for the silent auction, or artifacts that will be placed into the central monument or metal sculptures, contact Helbach at (715) 372-5027.