Brule's small war memorial sends loud message
"It's a small memorial, but I want it to have a good voice." —Paul Helbach, Price of War Committee chairman
A visit to Brule on a Friday night will find people visiting the Price of War Memorial in the town park. Finished last month, the display blends nearly 25 tons of nature, art, poetry, history and local names into a weighty tribute, with half a dozen benches for quiet contemplation.
“People will sit here for whatever reason before they go for fish fry,” said Vietnam veteran Paul Helbach of Brule. “And that’s the goal, that people sit here, read all this and reflect, and then maybe kind of go away with a new perspective. And that’s mission accomplished.”
The site has an air of fall. On the hefty stones, unearthed at the local quarry, rest metal maple leaves fashioned by Tiger Manufacturing students at Northwestern High School. Laying like they’ve been plastered to the rock by rain as they fell, each bears a quote.
The quotes advocate peace, are from famous people or are from people in the community, said Helbach, chairman of the Price of War Committee.
They run the gamut from Ernest Hemingway, Black Elk, Albert Einstein and “Imagine” by John Lennon to the words of Brule poet Peggy Trojan, Ken Defoe of Red Cliff and Mary Berube of Brule.
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“The price of war has affected all of us in one way or another. This small town has felt 'the darkness of War' and strives, with its young people, to be the light of the future without War,” Berube wrote.
Four benches ringing the five large stones were placed in memory of local veterans from World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Additional benches rest outside the circle. Each carries a story.
Trojan's poem is placed on the central rock across from a bench in honor of her husband, David, a Marine Corps helicopter pilot.
Author Nan Wisherd placed one bench in honor of her uncles, Adolph, Art and Herb Aho of Waino.
" Typical for the WWII generation, when Pearl Harbor happened, these guys literally — and I thought it was kind of a hyperbole — but they literally dropped what they were doing in the fields and went and signed up. I don’t think one had even finished high school," Helbach said.
When Wisherd's family came to a recent Lions Club chicken feed, Helbach asked how they liked the memorial.
"And Nan's only response was, 'There were tears,'" Helbach said. "That was the whole idea of this ... It's a small memorial, but I want it to have a good voice."
It's taken five years and numerous rewrites to build the grassroots memorial. The tribute has been funded by raffles, pancake breakfasts and an upwelling of community support. Olson Brothers Contractors provided the stones from its quarry and moved them into place. Tiger Manufacturing students refused to take any payment for the metal leaves. When drought threatened the trees this summer, Brule Fire Chief Keith Kesler watered them regularly with a pumper truck.
The end result, Helbach said, is better than he envisioned. The stones, particularly the 24,000-pound central stone, symbolize the weight of war.
The Brule man spent 25 years as a PTSD/trauma therapist for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He said the voice behind the memorial is a collaboration of hundreds of voices, including those traumatized veterans and those advocating for a better way for the country to resolve conflict.
"I have heard the voices of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghan veterans," he said. "Currently, the anguish of Afghan veterans is palpable."
The site will be dedicated on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, with speeches and a meal at the town hall, but it is finished.
Over the years, Helbach sees the maple trees growing into a small grove, a natural place for people to sit and think.
"The Price of War Memorial is small and concentrated," he said. "Hopefully its voices are large with a broad, reaching message."