When a newcomer to Murray County recently asked Harrison Parker about the origins and history behind the Murray County Veterans Memorial Park in Chatsworth, the local businessman and Vietnam vet straightened in his chair and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. Turns out that he, as a member of the original Veterans Memorial Park planning committee, had plenty to share.
His stories - about the amazing generosity of Murray County and the hard work of all the local veterans who worked to make the park a reality - came in a rush, and centered on the gratitude and pride he feels for his community.
"Murray County is the most patriotic county in this state," declared Parker, committee treasurer and also a chaplain for the local American Legion. "People here contributed pennies, nickels, dimes, dollars ... one old boy came in, still in his work overalls, and gave me a check for $5,000," recalled Parker. "I said 'can you afford to do this' and he said 'I can't afford not to. I landed at Omaha Beach.' That's an example of how the people around here feel about our country."
Veterans Memorial Park is now nearly seven years old, and the total financial commitment made to design, build, maintain and update what many call the finest veterans memorial in any Georgia county, has risen into six figures. Each veteran present nodded in agreement when Parker said that "it's priceless; how do you put a price tag on a living legacy to the vets who have helped keep America free?"
"Every penny invested has been the result of the generosity and quality of the people of Murray County and veterans throughout North Georgia," added U.S. Army veteran and Memorial Park Committee member Ron Scott. "No government funds have been used for this park."
The Murray County Veterans Memorial Park Committee Inc. is a 100 percent non-profit entity led by seven board members, and is funded totally through donations, military-themed apparel sales and the sale of engraved memorial bricks that are permanently displayed at the park. There are currently more than 2,000 bricks at the park, honoring veterans from the War of 1812 to Vietnam.
To purchase a memorial brick at Veterans Memorial Park, stop by Parker Appliances at 120 E. Cherokee Street in Chatsworth. Each engraved brick requires a $100 donation. All donations and are fully tax-deductible.
It takes more than money to maintain the park and plan for its future. A bit of elbow grease is needed from time to time and, again, the community provides.
"We also have a 15 to 25 person volunteer force that are indispensable to what we do," said committee member Dale Sleuder, whose military history collection and handmade raffle prizes will be featured during the Veterans Day Observance on Nov. 11. "Many are non-veterans ... as you can tell, patriotism is very prominent here in Murray County."
Dedicated in 2010, Murray County Veterans Memorial Park features displays that honor veterans of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as specific conflicts such as World War II, Korea and even the Civil War.
There is also a section that honors "gold star" mothers from Murray County who lost a son or daughter while they were in service to our country.
When asked about the "why" behind making such an effort and investment, committee member Ronald Scott, a U.S. Army vet who served in Vietnam, said "I personally think that every veteran who served, in combat or not, deserve the thanks of our nation. This is a way we can do that year-round."