Groundbreaking for Veterans Memorial

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Monday for the upcoming Veterans Memorial in Yanceyville. From left, Committee Co-Chair Leroy Harrelson, Secretary Jeff Sicz, Co-Chair Fred Smith, Sallie Smith, Elin Claggett, Mayor Alvin Foster, John Claggett, Paula Seamster, Project Manager Tony Smith, Joe Carter, Ruby Hovatter, Bill Carroll, and Jeannine Everidge.

A momentous day of achievement and excitement was held Monday as the Veterans Memorial Committee held the official groundbreaking ceremony in front of Yanceyville Municipal Building where the monument will be erected.

Yanceyville Mayor Alvin Foster had this to say: “This memorial will be a focal point long after we’re gone. All veterans made it possible for us to be here and there were many who made the ultimate sacrifice. Thanks for all you have done and continue to do!”

Co-chairman Fred Smith was clearly elated as he shared the long and winding road that is leading to the Veterans Memorial. He shared how he was approached by former Mayor Curtis Davis (now deceased) about the town offering the property if a memorial could be built there. “He knew that my wife and I would get it going and get the project done. He contacted me because I am the Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander of Post 7316 and I also served eight years on town council. Mayor Davis was not a veteran, but always supported veterans and never missed a Memorial Day or Veterans Day ceremony; he was very supportive of all veterans.”

Smith faced a battle of a different sort in January of 2014 when diagnosed with colon cancer. However, that didn’t stop him from his quest. He got his VFW quartermaster Bill Carroll, an Air Force Vietnam veteran, involved and in January 2014, he and Carroll met with Lawrence McFall and Davis Newman for three hours asking questions about how they spearheaded the Danville/Pittsylvania Veterans Memorial. “They were the heart and soul of the Memorial. We were told by these two to add Jerry Hovatter, a retired Air Force Vietnam veteran, to assist us; Jerry would be very technical and has proven to be a valuable committee member,” says Smith.

On February 4, 2014 Smith addressed town council with some plans to get the project going, but he also postponed the project while undergoing surgery, radiation, and chemo treatments.

Starting again in February 2015, they formed a committee devoted to the project. Each of the four Veterans organizations were asked to have two members from their post on the committee. “We have VFW Post 7316, American Legion Posts 89, 210 and 447 in Caswell County. We added other community leaders such as a county commissioner and a member of the town council. We also have Carolyn Payne as our finance officer; she was the Town of Yanceyville finance director for years and her dad, Mr. Ralph Payne, was a POW in WW II. The first committee had 17 members; we still do now with only a few changes.”

On May 25, 2015, a press day in town hall was held to announce the project to all of Caswell County. They also walked to the property so everyone would know where the Memorial would be. “It’s a great site, very visible from NC Hwy 86, looking towards our Old Historic 1861 Courthouse. At this press briefing we encouraged anyone interested to let us know how you can serve, donate, give suggestions for the Memorial.”

The entire committee met December 2015 and set March 2016 as the first official meeting. At the first few meetings, Smith and Leroy Harrelson of American Legion Post 210 were named co-chairman; finance Carolyn Payne; attorney Lee Farmer; design committee was composed of Smith, Jerry Hovatter, Ruby Hovatter, and Landon Wyatt (now deceased). The very critical committee devoted to research was composed of Terri Young, Sallie Smith, Paula Seamster and later added Elin Claggett. Much research has been conducted by several ladies with the Caswell County Historical museum.

Research has been intensive and thorough with each name to go on the memorial thoroughly researched and documented.

Right now, there are 69 names including veterans killed in action from WW I until today, Prisoners of War and lost at sea. Also, those that died in a combat area, but not by hostile means will be on wall.

“There is still time to give us new information and some new names to research. As a part of the research many websites have been used and all the cemeteries and graveyards in fields have been walked over checking for veterans’ names. What we have found out is just because a name is on a wall or list does not mean they were killed in combat or ever served in a combat/conflict country and should be etched in a black granite wall,” says Smith.

Six service medallions representing all the six branches of the services will be added to the bottom of the memorial. Those branches include: Space Force, Army, Navy, US Marines, Air Force, and US Coast Guard.

The design of the granite wall was done by four members, Fred Smith, Jerry Hovatter, Ruby Hovatter and Landon Wyatt (now deceased). Many hours have been spent making the monument presentable to the citizens of Caswell County, making this Memorial a place where citizens want to come, reflect and honor all veterans as well as a Memorial where visitors will want to come and visit.

“We have been honored to have as a partner Alley, Williams, Carmen, and King-architects on board helping with the design. South Boston Memorials of South Boston, Virginia has been so easy to be a partner with for handling our ordering of the black granite. They will do the etching and design the front and back of the black granite, setting of the Memorial and guiding us every step of the way: thanks to Brad and Lori for their help through the complete project,” he adds.

Fundraising saw its campaign kick off May of 2017 with a concert with “Letters from Home” in the civic center. Smith shared that he was disappointed with the turnout and that at a subsequent concert.

A goal of $175,000.00 was set in May of 2017. So far, $156,000.00 has been raised with the largest donation being $25,000.00 as well as $1,000.00 from a grant. A challenge made in May 2017 to match Smith’s first $1,000.00 has been matched 22 times. The majority of the other money is from fundraisers such as car shows, hot dogs, hats and tee shirts which were provided by a local business, field of honor, individual donations from dropping a dollar in a jar, making a dollar here, a dollar there, quilt raffles, fish fry’s, sausage sales, other food, donations from Ruritan Clubs, especially Central Caswell Ruritan here in Yanceyville. “There have been many small donations to get us where we are today. Just last week American Legion Post 89 of Yanceyville donated $18,161.00 that they worked hard on selling tickets for a gun raffle. All the other veteran’s organizations in the county have also made donations,” shares Smith. “One special donation can in the mail last week: a check for $15.00 from a gentleman from Virginia. He explained that some former friends of his from Caswell County had sent him a newspaper clipping of the Memorial: in his three page letter to me he asked for more information and explained of his desire to donate more but he could not afford it. He has no phone nor the internet. I plan to answer all his questions: this great American probably could not really afford $15.00, but he wanted to help. Many small donations have been made, many for much less, but with the same passion. There have been others who have met me and others on the committee and handed us a $20.00 bill or less... it all adds up.”

For each donation of $100.00 or more, donors will be noted on a plaque for their donation. It can also be in memory or honor of an individual. This will be placed under the porch at the Yanceyville Municipal Building.

“We the committee members, the citizens of Caswell County and especially the Veterans of Caswell, want to thank the Town of Yanceyville for the property to construct the Memorial. Once built, the Memorial will be owned by the town, but the veterans will always have perpetual rights to the Memorial. You will always have the right to visit this Memorial, sit and give thanks to the Veterans with their names on the wall. It will be a great place to give your thanks for all the freedoms all these county veterans have given to you all.”

To wind up the groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, Smith pointed out that the sticks and markings on the ground signals the beginning of Phase II ,the grading process. “We will show you exactly where the Veteran’s Memorial will be as well as the other memorials in this memorial park. The Town of Yanceyville will have two: a law enforcement and a public service memorial as well in this area.”

The date of the dedication has not been determined yet since there is still much more work ahead including raising the rest of the money for the project.

“We are quite sure by the end of 2020! We will keep everyone advised,” Smith added in closing.