Dream of Chandler veterans memorial coming true - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Dream of Chandler veterans memorial coming true

May 11th, 2021 development
Dream of Chandler veterans memorial coming true

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

After more than a decade of planning and development, the city is moving forward with constructing a veterans memorial at Oasis Park in south Chandler.

Chandler City Council last month approved spending $3.5 million on the second phase of a memorial that pays tribute to residents who have served in the armed forces.

The expenditure is expected to complete a project that has been in the works since 2008 and required years of fundraising by local veterans to get it off the ground.

At one point, it wasn’t clear whether the memorial would ever come to fruition since the city had no money in its budget to build it.

But city officials believe the recent commitment made by Council should result in the memorial’s completion by Veterans Day this November.   

“This has been a very important park for us and we’re excited to see this to completion,” said Mayor Kevin Hartke.

The memorial’s design is intended to represent six core values: freedom, recognition, reflection, sacrifice, memories and families.

Andy Bass, the city’s community services director, said various aspects of the memorial each hold a symbolic meaning that’s intended to correlate with one of the core values.

For example, the memorial’s layout is configured to resemble the stars and stripes of an American flag.

The configuration is a grid consisting of columns and cubes assembled in a pattern to make it appear as if the cubes in the middle are sinking into the ground.

Bass said the different heights between the outer cubes and the inner cubes symbolically represents the sacrificial journey all soldiers go on during times of conflict.

“This is meant to represent soldiers going off to war and then returning,” Bass said.

Twenty-one of the grid’s cubes are fully submerged in the ground, which is meant to correlate with the military’s famous 21-gun salute.

A giant star in the memorial’s center is intended to represent the blue stars seen on service flags hung by the families of soldiers during wartime.

The memorial’s design additionally offers an ample room for visitors to congregate and places for them to record their memories of friends and family who have served in the military.

“The goal is to provide a space that would offer individuals and groups an opportunity for personal reflection,” Bass added.

The city has made few changes to the designs that were originally drafted for the memorial several years ago.

Bass said his department decided to make a prominent addition to the design by placing a F-86D fighter plane on display along the memorial’s south side.

The old plane, which is currently parked near Chandler Boulevard and Delaware Street, will be refurbished before the city relocates it to Oasis Park.

The plane was originally dedicated as a memorial for Williams Air Force Base, which was one of the nation’s most prominent training centers for pilots before it closed in 1993. The base has since been transformed into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

Chandler’s designers have additionally changed some of the memorial’s lighting features by having a group of columns light up once the sun goes down.

“It will be much more impactful during the evening,” Bass said.

When the city first began making designs for Oasis Park in the mid-2000s, a section of land located near Lindsay and Chandler Heights roads was set aside as the memorial site.

Shortly after a design was drafted, the state’s economy tanked due to the Great Recession and the project’s future was suddenly thwarted by a downturn in public financing.

When it appeared that the city wouldn’t have the funds to start construction, veterans banded together to collect the money on their own.

Councilman Matt Orlando, a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force, partnered with local veterans groups and held fundraisers in order to keep the memorial project progressing toward completion.

Orlando said they went around town asking various organizations and businesses for donations, which proved to be difficult given the economic climate at that time.

“Unfortunately, we were just coming out of the recession,” Orlando recalled. “There wasn’t a lot of money out there.”

They managed to raise $750,000 before the donations gradually stopped coming in.

Despite the successful fundraising efforts, local veterans had to wait a few more years before phase one of the memorial’s construction was completed in 2016. And some of them didn’t live long enough to witness such a milestone.    

William Harper, a World War II veteran and Sun Lakes resident, had been one of the project’s biggest champions and continuously pushed the city to move ahead with the project.

“I just don’t want this thing dragging on forever,” Harper told the East Valley Tribune in 2008.

Harper, the recipient of two Purple Heart medals, passed away in 2013 at the age of 85.

The loss of more and more war veterans has been a motivating factor that pushed Orlando to get the memorial built sooner rather than later.

He worried that men and women who served during World War II might not still be around by the time the city finally finishes construction.   

“My argument was ‘Our veterans are dying — we need to get this thing built,’” Orlando added.

After Orlando got back on the council in 2019, he and some other members convinced city officials to move the project ahead in the city’s 10-year schedule for capital projects.

The maneuver seemed to work and the city found the funding in its capital budget for the project’s $3.5-million price tag.   

Orlando said it’s exciting to finally see the project advance toward completion and he hopes local veterans will continue to be involved with the memorial once it’s finished.

He’s recently asked city officials to consider letting veterans work as volunteers at the memorial by conducting tours and keeping up the site’s maintenance.

Other city leaders have expressed appreciation for the city’s willingness to continue supporting the project and signaling to the community that Chandler cares about those who have served in the military.

“It means a lot to veterans for so many different reasons,” said Councilman OD Harris, an U.S. Army veteran.

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