Veterans tend to neglected War Memorial
By Eileen P. Duggan
Published in the South County Times, November 5, 2010
For decades, a granite monument sat in a secluded courtyard at the Crestwood Government Center, unnoticed by all but a few friends and relatives of the four men whose names are engraved there.
But now, thanks to a squadron of veterans, the Crestwood War Memorial is receiving the care and attention promised at its dedication more than 40 years ago.
“We feel like we’re brothers,” said Russell Whitener, a member of the Crestwood Memorial Committee and a U.S. Army veteran who spent two years defending the demilitarized zone in Vietnam. “It’s like our brothers on that stone out there.”
The Memorial Committee was established by ordinance in December 1967 for the purpose of building and maintaining a memorial to Crestwood residents who died while on active military duty. The committee was charged with raising private funds for the memorial, planning its construction and maintaining it.
Calvin and Virginia Jones were instrumental in initiating the memorial project, making the first donation of $50, according to city correspondence. Their son, Army PFC Calvin E. Jones Jr., died Sept. 11, 1964 at age 19 in Denver, Colo.
The fundraising committee did its job well, meeting the $2,400 goal with individual and business donations ranging from $1 to $200. On May 30, 1968, the city dedicated a rectangular royal pearl granite monument designed by Crestwood architect Maurice C. Johansen. Calvin E. Jones Jr.’s funeral flag flew over the ceremony from a new 35-foot flagpole.
The new monument bore three names engraved in gold leaf:
Calvin E. Jones Jr.; Marine PFC Jerry B. Kraft, who died March 27, 1967 in Vietnam; and Marine PFC Roger W. Chasteen, who died May 10, 1967 in Vietnam. The name of Air Force Lt. Dennis B. Haas, who died April 10, 1970 in an air crash near Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, was added later.
At some point after that last inscription, the committee became inactive and the three citizen seats were no longer appointed. Research into old city records by Crestwood Police Chief Michael L. Paillou and City Administrator Jim Eckrich turned up no information on when the thread may have been broken. After more than 25 years with the police department, Paillou recalled no services or activities related to the monument.
The memorial, long hidden by tall shrubbery in a little-traveled area off the front Government Center steps, was easy to overlook. Until he became chief in 2006, Paillou had not even been fully aware of its presence or purpose. Then he began noticing an elderly woman visiting the plaza periodically, and he finally asked her about the visits.
The woman was Mae Chasteen, the mother of Roger Chasteen. That meeting got Paillou, a Marine veteran himself, started on a mission to bring the memorial back to life.
“I have often wondered about these four men, as the memorial only provides their names,” said Paillou. “While the members of this community did a wonderful job of memorializing these men, it was not a complete tribute and lacks the ability to stay current.”
With the help of Chasteen and several other citizen volunteers, city officials moved to get the Memorial Committee back on track. As part of an extensive renovation of the Government Center entrance and parking lot two years ago, the shrubbery was replaced with low-lying vegetation, making the monument more visible.
A Veterans Day service was held at the monument on Nov. 9, 2009, featuring a Marine color guard, speeches and presentation of a wreath by Mayor Roy Robinson and Mae Chasteen. She died this May at age 90.
On May 11, Robinson appointed three members to the long-dormant Memorial Committee.
The appointed board members, all veterans, are: Robert H. Wagner and Russell Whitener, both retired police officers; John Morrisette, a retired electronics engineer with Martin-Marietta and the Veterans Administration Hospital; and aldermanic liaison John Foote. The working committee also includes several devoted volunteers, who contribute time, expertise and in-kind donations.
Changes to the Monument
The reconstituted board immediately set to work on two missions: to plan the next Veterans Day ceremony and to enhance the monument and its setting.
This year’s Veterans Day commemoration will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 10. Walt Crawford, executive director of the World Bird Sanctuary, will be the keynote speaker, and Scott Taylor, principal of Crestwood Elementary School, has been invited to sing.
The ceremony also will serve as the kickoff for a new fundraising drive. The drive will start by seeking pledges only — not cash— for a yet-to-be-determined amount to be donated toward improvements to the memorial.
“We’re gaining some momentum,” said Wagner, who served in the Air Force in France from 1965 to 1969. “With a little cooperation from the community, we’ll succeed.”
The committee is in the investigation stage regarding enhancements, but one need is sure: the addition of one new name. In his research, Paillou discovered that Army Sgt. Karl H. Moore died in Germany on Nov. 1, 1986. The committee is now searching records, published reports and local memories to identify any other service members who may qualify for the honor. Then, there is the sobering reality that, with troops now serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, “we could lose another one tomorrow,” Paillou said.
As for site improvements, no decisions have been made. The full potential of the memorial is constrained by a small, awkwardly configured area whose only outdoor access is via two staircases. Stair-free access is available only from indoors during Government Center business hours. Although there is plenty of room for new names on the monument itself, the committee members would like to add plaques somewhere at the site bearing more information about the people memorialized. The plaza itself could use a little work and lighting could be improved.
“We are hoping to do something better,” said Morrissette, who served four years in the Navy off Cuba and Vietnam in the 1960s. “If we get enough support, I would like to move it to a larger area.”
Wagner and Whitener agree.
“We’ve got a good opportunity to really make something of it,” said Whitener. “If we can raise the money, I’d like to see it moved to Whitecliff Park.”
He has even identified a location he considers ideal, a level, shaded area that is quiet and peaceful but handicapped accessible with a pavilion and nearby parking.
“We want to add some dignity for them, and all the rest of the guys here in Crestwood who made the sacrifice,” Whitener said. “I’m passionate about it.
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Reprinted with permission of Times Newspapers, Webster Groves, Missouri.