Group looking for veterans to honor on memorial
As the nation honored its veterans this Nov. 11, the Northwestern Lehigh Veterans Memorial Committee is moving forward with plans to construct a memorial at Ontelaunee Park in Lynn Township.
The memorial will honor the service of all local veterans who took the oath of enlistment and served honorably from the Revolutionary War to the present, regardless of location served or combat experience, including veterans who will be called to serve in the future.
“We started in 2018 and our first goal was to find out how many veterans we had in the Northwestern School District,” said Chairman Donald Christ.
The idea of building the memorial at the park was always a part of the plan to make the park an invaluable resource for the community.
“As we finalized the changes to the park and started projects, we wanted to include a veterans memorial,” said Lynn Township Supervisor Justin Smith, who serves on the committee.
“The idea came from the township,” Christ explained. “Justin contacted me, and I volunteered to put together a committee. We’ve been gathering names and have about 1,500 so far, but this is the hardest thing we are faced with: getting veterans to respond. For no cost, you can submit a name.”
Research has been an essential part of the planning stage.
“To help us, we went to Palmerton to see that memorial and we were impressed,” Christ said. “They have all the wars represented dating back to the French and Indian War.
“They built theirs for 3,000 people. When [comparing] the size of Palmerton with our four townships, our population is pretty well matched.
Christ said the next step is going to be leveling the space where the memorial will be erected.
“Then I’m hoping to go to the township,” Christ said. “ [Finally] we want to get the memorial designed on paper.”
He noted monetary donations are welcome.
“People may want to memorialize a loved one with a tree or a bench,” Christ said.
“There will be many ways to give. We already have collected about $13,000.”
Christ, who will be relying on his experience with raising funds for the park, admitted he is “going to need some big contributors” to move the project along.
“It’s going to cost us about $100 per name,” Christ said.
He emphasized veterans will be honored by having no cost to themselves or their families.
The memorial will be financed through voluntary tax-deductible donations from residents and businesses.
Almost from the first, Lynn Township decided to reach out to the other three townships for support.
“It would be a lot better [to construct] one memorial where everyone could come,” Christ said, adding it would be a much more substantial memorial.”
A memo from Lowhill Township supervisors stressed the importance of honoring local veterans.
“Veterans and their families devote their lives to the service of our country and the ideals we hold dear,” the memo stated.
Weisenberg and Heidelberg townships are also providing valuable support.
“The memorial fits right into the history that’s in the park,” Christ stated. “We have vets and non-vets on the committee.”
Committee members also include Steve and Justine Bachman, William Mantz, Eugene Handwerk, Harold Handwerk, Willard Dellicker, David Keller, Steve Feinour, Richard Hughes, Richard Bleiler, Harold Haas, Nancy Mantz Zellner and Terry Rehrig.
Many on the committee have personal reasons for seeing the memorial erected.
“My father was a Marine in the Korean War and my brother was in the Vietnam War,” Christ said.
“I don’t think there’s anything else we can do than to memorialize that,” Smith said. “My grandparents on both sides and both my brother and sister were in the military. She still is.”
“[The memorial] is a recognition to all the veterans of our school district for the sacrifices they made throughout the history of our nation,” said Dellicker, a 35-year veteran. “It will also provide a beautiful solemn place in our community that will preserve the historical tenants of our nation’s founding and the struggle our ancestors had to endure to pass our precious freedom on to us.”
Mantz added his thoughts on having the memorial.
“The memorial should draw people to the park, not only military but people [who want to remember] those who have passed,” Mantz said.
“I’m sure the names that will be inscribed there will be honored by many.”
Justine Bachman, wife of veteran Steve Bachman, discussed why the memorial will be important.
“The memorial is a very important way to honor those that served with their lives and those who traveled away and gave up so much,” said Bachman. “I feel very blessed for the sacrifice they made. It’s important to have a memorial to honor them.
“I have places to go to memorialize [their sacrifices] but some people don’t have that because they were lost at sea or left in other countries.”
From the very beginning, the memorial project was a homegrown one.
“I moved away when I enlisted and didn’t move back home until 11 years ago, so when Chico [Donald Christ] called and asked me if I would do it, I thought to step up and do what I can,” Mantz said.
Zellner is the mother of two veterans.
“Chico came to my doorstep and said he was looking for someone to do the record keeping so I said I’d be able to do that,” Zellner said. “ ... I would like to see my grandchildren and great-grandchildren have the chance to come back here and visit the memorial.
“You hear about people trying to erase history but every veteran has a particular story worth preserving.”
Her son, Brad, served in the Army.
He was stationed at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Wash. and served 16 months in Iraq.
Daughter, Kristi served in the Navy, traveling to places such as Maine and Sicily.
Then she had children. Her husband just retired after 22 years in the military.
“I spent eight years in active duty in the Marines,” Mantz said. “I was in Turkey, Scotland, Alaska, places like that.”
Harold Handwerk said he had totally different reasons for going to the service.
“I had polio when I was a kid and when the doctor said I couldn’t do anything,” Handwerk said. “I was determined to go in. I had to prove it to myself that I could do something physically.”
Harold Handwerk said he worked on topography, surveying the Persian Gulf and other places.”
“I spent 13 months in Iran,” he said.
“When you get to know other vets, you look at them differently,” Harold Handwerk said. “When they say ‘band of brothers,’ it really means something. I had a lot of uncles who served so [the military] has been in the family.”
Justine Bachman was in high school when future husband Steve enlisted.
“He went in as an MP, serving in 556 Pack Platoon in Germany with nuclear weapons,” she explained.
Retired Rear Admiral Dave Keller discussed his feelings about the memorial.
“This veterans memorial is so personally meaningful to me. It will serve to honor our many local service members, past and present, who rose to our nation’s call,” Keller said. “It will be a continual reminder of the sacrifices they made and their individual courage in defending honor, duty and country.”
In conclusion, Christ discussed what Ontelaunee Park as a whole means to him.
“This park for me was a dream come true,” Christ said. “We have recreation. You can fish, read a book, or look at the birds.
“By spring, we hope to have enough information that we can go out to bid, so that the park will also be a place to reflect and remember.”
Visit nwlehighvetsmemorial.org for additional information on the veterans memorial.