Memorials to soldiers who died in battle can take decades to rise in their solemn stony splendor. To make sure it doesn't take that long, two efforts are under way to preserve the memory of Kansas soldiers who have died so far in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One memorial would be in Wichita, the other in the northeast part of the state, perhaps Leavenworth, Topeka or Junction City.
Both efforts are just under way. Organizers are recruiting boards of directors, securing nonprofit status, finalizing designs, and creating websites.
In Wichita, Anita Dixon, whose son, Sgt. Evan Parker died in Iraq in 2005, is planning the "Operation Freedom Memorial" honoring those who served in Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The design would feature silhouettes representing each Kansas soldier killed.
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Dixon said she got the idea when she went to the John S. Stevens Veterans Memorial Park at Second and Greenway about a year after her son died as part of a Gold Star Mothers convention. Gold Star Mothers, founded in 1918, is an organization for women who have lost children in wars.
"I just thought the park was beautiful," she said. "I was looking at all the other memorials down there and my question was, when do we start putting one together for Operation Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom?"
Dixon is two or three months into the project and has received indications from city leaders she could get 1,000 square feet of space at the park, west of the Vietnam Memorial, for the memorial.
She was not thinking only of her son when she decided to build a memorial.
"I'm doing this for everybody in the state, for every single soldier that was lost, for every soldier that served," Dixon said.
Harvey Nicholson, a Vietnam-era soldier who lives in Topeka, said he felt compelled to act while attending the funeral of Sgt. Jacob Butler of Wellsville, who was killed in Iraq in 2003.
"I didn't want to wait 25 years like we did after the Vietnam War," Nicholson said. "As I sat there and saw Jake's funeral, I said 'why can't we do it now while they're still fresh in our hearts?' "
Nicholson led a drive for a memorial that opened in Ottawa in 1999 honoring Franklin County veterans from all wars. His concept for the new one includes using ceramic photographs of the Kansas soldiers who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
"They're more than just names on a wall," Nicholson said. "They're young men, and sometimes you forget what they look like."
Dixon said she doesn't favor that idea because photos can be defaced.
"It would kill me if my son's face were marked out or scratched out," she said.
Nicholson said ceramic photos won't be defaced, but he would honor the wishes of any family that doesn't want a photo of their soldier included in his monument.
"If she does not want it, and anybody else doesn't want it, then I would not put it on the wall," he said.
Dixon's design would include silhouettes of soldiers etched into an octagonal pillar topped by a battlefield cross, consisting of boots, bayonet, helmet, rifle and dog tags.
Neither one has started major fundraising campaigns. They need to get their designs finalized and websites up and running. Nicholson has a Facebook page about his project, www.facebook.com/kiamemorial.
The location of Nicholson's memorial, as well as any final decisions about its design, will be up to his board of directors, he said.
Dixon said she doesn't know how much money her effort will need. She hopes to get design blueprints and costs estimated in June. She would like to get the memorial accomplished in a year or two, she said.
Nicholson, whose Franklin County memorial cost $128,000, expects it will be three to four years before his new memorial is built.
Neither memorial effort should have trouble raising funds once their concepts are finalized and websites established, he said.
The state has plenty of room for two memorials to the Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers, Nicholson said. Their websites could raise support for both, he said.
The memorials will draw donations and visits from veterans around the country who served with the Kansas soldiers, Nicholson said.
He learned after the one in Franklin County opened that memorials are for the living soldiers as well as the dead.
"It helps veterans take care of their own war, their own grieving," he said.