Fountain veterans memorial serves to honor veterans for many years to come

Fountain Mayor Richard Kujath addresses the audience as the local veterans' organizations stand awaiting to give a 21-gun salute. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/NEWS LEADER
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 “You get only one chance to form a relationship with a veteran…there’s really no second chance,” stated Rob Gross, director of the state veterans’ cemetery in Preston.

His comments were made as he addressed a gathering at the Fountain veterans’ memorial last Saturday, June 9, as it was formally dedicated.

Gross spoke of how he and his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather had all chosen to join the military — different branches, but still members of the military wearing uniforms that represented the United States of America. He told how one of his grandfathers was so very proud of having served in the U.S. Army during World War II.

“I was fortunate to have a very strong relationship with him,” Gross added. “There was a box of medals that he would pull out to show me, and he would share them with me to get that memory established. Later in life, he did the same with my first daughter…he’d pull out that box of medals and show her.”

Time advanced, as did Gross’s grandfather’s age, and at his passing, there were plans to send him off with military honors.

“I knew it was important, having his military honors,” Gross continued. “I planned the funeral, but looking around halfway through the funeral, I noticed that there were no uniforms, no hats, no flags, no ‘Taps.’ That was to be taken care of by the funeral director, but he stopped and told me that he had failed to get military honors for my grandfather. I was not happy, and I said something under my breath. At the end of the graveside service, there was a box, the flag was not folded…that memory has carried through in me for many, many years. For me, that was huge.”

The former Houston County veterans’ services officer went on to tell about when he was asked to become the person in charge of the veterans’ cemetery in 2015. He related that he asked to be given a weekend to consider the matter because he felt it was a very notable responsibility and he didn’t want to underestimate the task being entrusted to him.

“Every single veteran, I wanted to treat the way I treated my grandfather,” he said. “You get one chance to treat them the honorable way…my brother told me to take the job…this is my chance to pay it forward to the men and women who served our country. I thank everyone here for taking the time away from their busy schedules to be here to honor them.”

Another gentleman spoke about how he admires veterans from small towns like Fountain, including Kenyon veteran Clarence Larson, who was captured in April 1942, and made to be part of the Bataan Death March, eventually becoming a slave to the Japanese for three years.

He also told about men who had survived ejection from a fighter plane at 700 miles per hour and overcame their broken legs, men who survived the sinking of warships, men and women “who stepped up and did what was needed when it was their time to serve…they made sacrifices for their country and their families and towns did, too.”

The gentleman observed how Fountain’s memorial had been built in a matter of two weeks and how it will stand for generations to come.

Fountain Mayor Richard Kujath stood to speak as well. He said, “People from all walks of life contributed to this memorial…we ended up with more money than we needed, and we’re going to do more things here.”

Kujath listed the veterans’ organizations present — the Fountain American Legion and the Chatfield and Lanesboro Veterans of Foreign Wars posts’ members — who made the ceremony possible, thanking them for their willingness to stand to honor Fountain’s veterans and those individuals serving today.

“This is a wonderful monument that will be enjoyed for many, many years. I want to thank Larry Hunt for his work to build it, and I hope we all remember the purpose of this veterans’ memorial, those who served and those who are serving today.”