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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Paul Allen shows a Civil War saddle at the Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum.

  • World War II items sit in a room ready to be displayed.

  • Renovations began at the museum in August, including new ceiling and flooring.

  • A memorial for the Korean War sits outside the Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum.

  • The memorial may be hard to find, but leaves a big impression on its visitors.

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette A Merci Train boxcar is one of the top attractions at the memorial. It was one of 49 given to the United States from France.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019 1:00 am

Polishing hidden gem

Veterans memorial in need of help to complete upgrades

Blake Sebring | For The Journal Gazette

How to help

The Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum accepts donations and volunteers. Its mailing address is P.O. Box 26, Arcola, IN 46704. There's a Facebook page and a web page at www.weebly.com. The phone number is 260-267-5022.

The Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum on O'Day Road seems to be lost in time.

Though it has sat on a scenic 40-acre patch of southwest Allen County more than 100 years, it's hard to get to and many people have driven past without even realizing it's there.

The place looks a little old and tired, but a bit of newfound pride and updates could do wonders for morale and relevance.

A newly drafted board of directors has a goal of refurbishing for the 2019 season which opens Memorial Day. Their success will depend on how much help they get from others.

“People have a lot of passion for this place, and we just want to raise it to a position where any vet feels welcomed and honored when they come in here, along with their immediate family, or if you are a U.S. citizen you can just come in here and say 'Wow!'” said Paul Allen, the group's public relations director.

The new board took over Jan. 29. It's not that the complex is falling apart, but it needs some elbow grease in areas, a fresh coat of paint in others and a few dollars to modernize some things on the board's to-do list. Paving the parking lot would help make the area accessible to everyone in a wheelchair or using a cane. Project estimates are between $25,000 and $36,000 for new signage, but they could probably use quite a bit more.

As an example, flags would be expected to cover the grounds, showcasing some of the exhibits, but currently there are only seven on display and some of the poles are in bad shape. Organizers would like to hoist a minimum of 12 but refurbishing those could cost as much as $36,000.

Greg Bedford, the organization's new commander, chairs the veterans committee for UAW Local 2209. He moved to Fort Wayne 12 years ago, but he didn't know the shrine and museum existed before participating in a 2017 cleanup day. “It's hard to explain how the place touched me,” he said.

That's the way many feel during and after a visit, leaders said.

“I was in 'Nam with a guy 49 years ago who is from Fort Wayne,” Allen said. “He had been by this and he didn't know what the hell it was. I finally convinced him into coming out here and he was so humbled he mowed the lawn every Monday last summer. All it takes is getting people on these grounds.”

The hard part is getting them to 2122 O'Day Road. Because of the need for signs and directions, and the current construction on Bass Road, the shrine is difficult to find.

The homestead was originally purchased by World War I survivor Eric Scott and his wife, Cleo.

According to shrine lore, as part of a prayer in France during the war, Scott said, “No veteran will ever be forgotten” and promised God to build a memorial if his life was spared. The shrine opened in 1950 and was incorporated in 1973. Now it is a 501(c)3 corporation owned in a living trust by all veterans.

There are 15 monuments, including World War II artillery, a POW/MIA watchtower and memorials to all foreign wars. One of the most interesting is a Merci Train boxcar in the pavilion, one of 49 the French sent as a thank you to America.

The 10,000-square-foot museum includes memorabilia from as early as the War of 1812 and a saddle from the Civil War. In all, there are more than 2,000 pieces, including more than 200 uniforms.

Renovations on the museum started in August and include ceilings, flooring and display cases purchased by UAW Local 2209. Veteran groups such as American Legion halls, Disabled American Veteran chapters, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and AMVETS have all provided support.

Board members are hoping for more volunteers and skill tradesmen willing to donate time, money, and of course, some encouragement. 

The board is currently working with a month-to-month budget of about $1,000 to keep the utilities paid. Though the facility is only open from Memorial Day to Veterans Day, leaders hope to eventually be an option for school field trips.

Like most organizations which highlight the past, board members would like the next generation to step forward and help.

“We're not going to sit on our laurels and say, 'Hey, look this is what we've got,'” board member Terry Hudson said. “We intend to go ahead and make plans for the future. Right now, we have a lot of momentum going from the communities, and we want to keep that going so it doesn't fall into the condition it was.”

The first goal is to get the parking lot paved and restore the flags.

“It's already humbling to go out there and we don't even have the flags up,” board member Sharon Hudson said. “Just think if the flags were up and adding to the whole atmosphere.”