The past few months have included the observance of Memorial Day, Flag Day and Independence Day — all holidays that evoke a sense of patriotism and a reminder that our freedom isn’t free.
While we often observe those days with parades and barbecues, they also are times to recognize the solemn reasons those days exist. The Region is home to many memorials to honor those who have served in our country’s military branches, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in doing so.
Introducing children to these statues and shrines, but also other public areas they may already be visiting, and letting them know more about the meaning behind them, can leave a lasting impression.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all mold that a memorial must fit into; although there may be thousands of memorials across the country dedicated to veterans, each one is unique. Some memorials are statues. Some include engraved brick paths. In some cases a public building or area, Soldier Field in Chicago for example, becomes a memorial that is used in a beneficial way by the community on a daily basis.
Highland’s Wicker Park is a public multiuse green space that has an interesting history. It was dedicated in 1927 to our nation’s World War I veterans, and President Calvin Coolidge himself was present for the event. It also was visited by Barack Obama during a campaign stop just days before his 2008 election.
The space offers many recreational opportunities for the public, from a golf course to a splash pad to walking and bike trails to volleyball courts. Plenty of outdoor picnics are held each year in the shelter areas, and dinners and other events are held inside the banquet facilities.
Although it’s visited by many people every day, a lot of people likely pass through the gates without thinking about it being a memorial to World War I veterans. A memorial area also is located at the northwest corner of Indianapolis Boulevard and Ridge Road, which is nicely maintained and a place to reflect on those who have served.
In Chesterton, a monument was dedicated last year to honor military deaths of former Duneland Schools students, including Mitchell Winey, a 2014 Chesterton High School graduate and West Point Cadet who died in 2016.
With a large number of Duneland veterans that stretches back to the Revolutionary War discovered during research, it was decided not to list individual names, but rather the emblems of the military branches. The memorial was placed beside the Chesterton High School football field.
Just as Wicker Memorial Park is a full park dedicated to veterans, there are buildings designated as memorials, as well. The Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso is such an example. Originally dedicated to the Porter County soldiers and sailors who died during the Civil War, it transitioned to being a memorial honoring all veterans of that war, not just those who died, according the opera house’s website. This year marks the structure’s 125th anniversary, and it remains a public performance venue.
Originally called Memorial Hall, it hosted concerts, plays, political rallies and social events, including being a meeting place for the Grand Army of the Republic, those who served in the Civil War.
Today, you can spend time at this monument by attending a lunchtime cabaret performance, a theater production, a youth theater camp or a musical concert.
Probably the most expansive memorial in the area is the Community Veterans Memorial in Munster, which honors veterans of the conflicts of the 20th century with a long, commemorative walkway and scenes from each war, sculpted of bronze and granite. Several stations in the 6.5-acre park also have prerecorded information about each war.
The serene grounds are an appropriate place for a reflective walk with the family and an educational opportunity to not just look at a statue or flag, but also to read names and facts along the walk, see a glimpse of what the landscape would have been in these foreign lands and hear bits of audio explaining each war.
Also, you may want to take time with your kids to explore the South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail on southshorecva.com. On the site, you can read about some of the last known resting places and architectural pieces honoring the Region men who served between 1861 and 1865. You also can print out a map with pinpoints of significant Civil War memorial sites.