Veterans project growing rapidly

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Volunteers use Richardson's invention to remove compacted brick at the Craighead County Veteran's Memorial.

The veterans' memorial brick project, located on the grounds of the Craighead County Court House in Jonesboro, continues to grow rapidly, and it keeps volunteers busy laying and indexing new memorial bricks.

The Craighead County Veterans' Memorial Foundation undertook the memorial brick project two years ago and have been overwhelmed by the response received. The court house is located on the corner of Washington and Main Streets, and the bricks can be seen easily by passersby. The front section of the memorial is near capacity, and the bricks now encompass space allocated on the north side of the building .

Former Monette native, Ted Pylant, maintains the brick donor database and Ed Gerdes of Jonesboro is in charge of the outdoor electronic index, located on site. The memorial foundation has broken new ground with an impressive display of engraved bricks, purchased in memory of special county veterans. Gerdes is careful to list each brick by the veteran's name and make it easy for loved ones to find the brick when they visit the site. Each brick has a grid number, which is posted at each separate bricked section, then a row number appears in white, then a brick number, which starts at the top with one and goes down to sixteen in each row. The automated index also has several veteran biographies on hand, that can be displayed with a click on the personalized brick.

"The monuments and bricks are dedicated to all veterans who have served their communities, state, and nation," Pylant said. "Funding for the project has come through the support of the community, and the sale of bricks, imprinted with the veteran's name. The bricks sell for $40 each and are permanently affixed in the walkway display.

The standard size red paver bricks are limited to three lines of engraving, not to exceed 14 letters and spaces per line.

"After 9-11, we sold over 1,500 bricks," Pylant said. "Engravers had trouble keeping up with our demand for the bricks. We periodically place a group of bricks as they arrive from the engravers. We have learned a lot about laying and removing bricks as we have gone along, and have it down to a fine art now."

Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said, and in the memorial brick project, Albert Richardson is the father of invention. When bricks were damaged, misspelled, or in need of replacement, removing them proved a monumental task. Richardson went to his workshop and fashioned an invention that chisels its way through the packed sand encompassing the brick and lifts it out of its place with ease and accuracy. Replacement bricks can then be easily added.

When a large section of new bricks are laid, Richardson's tool comes in handy again, as removal of one brick is necessary to remove a section. The veterans laid over 200 new bricks last week, in preparation for the upcoming Memorial weekend.

Richardson has purchased eight bricks of his own, for his sons, grandsons, and soon to be granddaughter, as she has already signed up to join the Army. One of Richardson's bricks has a pictorial display showing a purple heart, a combat infantry badge, and a bronze star, commemorating the three medals he was awarded for service during the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.

The veterans' foundation undertook this massive brick project by using professionals to design it and help maintain it. Architect Jerry Brackett, with Brackett, Krennerich and Associates of Jonesboro, designed the overall veterans' memorial layout, which allows space for expansion and growth. Marty Bennett, of Bennett Nursery and Garden Center of Jonesboro, puts down the bricks after they are engraved, and does so with meticulous care, measuring and leveling as he inserts each one.

`"We are kept busy putting the new bricks in place," said Max Alexander, construction committee chairman for the monument foundation. "People are eager to show support for loved ones who serve in the military, in active duty or in the guard and reserve. It gives us a lot of pride to see all these bricks with the names of our soldiers on them."

"Our goal is to make this memorial a living monument for all soldiers of the past, present and future," Richardson concluded.

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