Volunteers place bricks at Wichita veterans memorial

Marion Carroll flashed a big grin as he carefully placed a brick with his name on it Saturday morning at the World War II Memorial downtown.

It was a broad smile for the retired chiropractor, now 88, who was one of the first to land at Normandy on June 6, 1944.

“It reminds me that I joined a really terrific group of guys,” Carroll said.

A team of volunteers, including several spry World War II veterans, worked through much the morning on Saturday, laying more bricks to honor their comrades.

Carroll’s daughters, Andrea Green and Renee Morz of Wichita, were smiling, too, as their dad took his place among the heroes.

“We have no idea what those boys faced. None at all,” Green said. “I’m extremely grateful, to my dad and to all of them, for that.”

Work continued Saturday on Wichitan Phil Blake’s baby, the new World War II monument surrounded by more than a thousand bricks, each with the name of a World War II veteran and the hidden story of their service.

Saturday was the second trip to the memorial this week for Carroll, a medic, who walked around alone reminiscing on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m proud,” he said. “It’s a reminder to me of all the fellas I knew and served with. I think about them a lot, and I wonder what happened to them. I landed with a lot of good people on Normandy and I was there to the end..”

Carroll’s smile faded.

“And I lost a lot of good friends there.”

Green and Morz said their father hasn’t talked a lot about his time with the U.S. Army 1st Infantry.

Those lost friends were clearly one reason why on Saturday, as Carroll turned pensive as he remembered them.

“There was a fella on our boat who was carrying part of a mortar shooter, and before we could even get off the boat he fell over the side,” he said. “He drowned, quickly. I was a medic and I wanted to go in after him but he was gone before we could get over there.”

There was plenty of pride, though, for Carroll’s two daughters – in their father and his comrades.

“It’s very touching,” Green said, “to realize what his generation did as young men and women for all of us. They have blessed us with so much.”

Blake, the architect of the downtown veterans memorial’s revival who has raised more than $1 million for its monuments, watched the bricklaying from a wheelchair.

“It’s a spiritual moment for them, to lay their brick,” he said. “It’s a spiritual moment for me, too.”

And for the always-smiling face of a local restaurant chain who worked feverishly to supply the bricks in the correct order to bricklayers.

“Phil is a great American,” said Freddy Simon, 87, the namesake of Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, who fought with the Army 1st Cavalry from 1941 through 1945. “This is a great project. These guys deserve some honor and they’re finally getting them with these bricks, I think.”

Another volunteer, Mary Certain of Wichita, joined the project after buying a brick for her father, Robert.

“I wanted my dad to make the Honor Flight to Washington (to see the national World War II memorial) and he didn’t want to, so I thought the next best thing was buying a brick and volunteering,” she said. “It was very emotional for us to have the brick here.

“It’s not enough to say thank you. It’s the least I can do.”

Saturday’s work isn’t the end of Blake’s efforts on the brick walks. Brick orders have eclipsed 1,100, and Blake needs more space at the memorial to keep placing them.

“This belongs to the park department, and we’re working with them on some more space,” he said.

“I don’t want to tell anyone no.”

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