Members of the Brule River Lions Club broke ground for the Price of War Memorial in Brule Community Park shortly after 8 a.m. Monday, May 18. By the end of the day, basalt boulders weighing nearly 25 tons were in place on a gravel bed, symbolizing the weight and gravity of war.
Paul Helbach has been spearheading the veterans memorial project.
“For a long time I had the vision, and the vision changed over time. But when I looked at it, I said this is what I wanted,” said Helbach, a Vietnam veteran. “I can’t even describe it emotionally. I’ve been thinking about this probably obsessively for four-and-a half-years. It all came to fruition yesterday (Monday) afternoon around 5 o’clock. It was pretty amazing.”
The Lions Club has been raising funds for the memorial through silent auctions and pancake breakfasts.
“We’ve kind of shied away from corporate donations. My concept of this was that it be locally-based, locally-supported, and I think for the most part that’s been true,” Helbach said. “It’s been what I call a bake sale fundraising effort.”
Monday, the $14,000 that has been raised stayed in the bank. The groundwork, heavy equipment, gravel and boulders were all donated by Olson Brothers Contractors of Brule. The boulders, including the 24,000-pound central rock, were trucked in from the Olson Quarry about 6 miles north of town.
“Olson Brothers has been key to this,” Helbach said. “Without them, we’d be fundraising for another five years.”
The business, which was started in the 1930s, has a quarry that produces over 70,000 tons of materials annually, from fractured rock to the crushed materials used in road construction. Olson Bros. has done a number of shoreline projects using the large rock to restore and protect Lake Superior properties.
President Keith Olson said he was happy they could help.
“We just want to recognize the local veterans here in Brule,” said Olson, a Lions Club member.
Benson Electric is also donating about $5,500 worth of electric groundwork for the memorial, and a Maple business has been tapped to do the landscaping.
“This thing could actually be dedicated by Veterans Day in November,” Helbach said.
The biggest unknown is when the Tiger Manufacturing students at Northwestern High School will be able to complete the steel plaques and eagle statue that will be fixed to the rocks. Each plaque would list the numbers — those killed in action, wounded in action, missing in action and the refugees — from specific conflicts dating back to the Civil War.
The initial plan was more elaborate, involving concrete work and additional statuary. Lions Club President Billy Cockerham envisioned something more stark.
“It’s somewhat modeled after the Paul Wellstone Memorial in Eveleth,” he said.
Even incomplete, the veterans memorial makes an impact.
“It’s very simple, but effective. I mean, it’s just stones,” said Helbach.
Helbach, of Brule, served as a medic in the U.S. Navy and was attached to a Marine mortar unit during his tour of Vietnam in 1966-70. He went on to counsel veterans for 30 years as a trauma therapist with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He keeps a framed picture of seven etchings in his office — seven names from the Vietnam War memorial. They were on his mind as they finished the rock work Monday.
“Every day I try to dedicate a part of my day to those seven guys who didn’t come back,” Helbach said. “This memorial is part of that too.”