MIDWEST CITY — It started four years ago, with a vision retired businessman Andy Cornelius had about the American flag as he walked through Joe B. Barnes Regional Park.
“It's kind of the center of the community; a lot of activities go on there,” Cornelius said. “I thought, for a city so invested in the military, we should at least have a flag.”
So he started knocking on doors and asking friends what they thought about the idea.
“He came to me and told me about his idea of putting a flag up at the park,” lawyer and former state Sen. Jim Howell said. “At first we were just going to do the flag but then the thing just ballooned into a memorial.”
Cornelius' dream became a $200,000 project led by a committee of friends, neighbors, and patriotic residents of Midwest City to build the city's first veterans memorial at Joe B. Barnes Regional Park, with all five branches of the military represented.
The American flag, state flag and prisoner of war flags will fly year-round, and visitors can pay tribute to those who have served by reading the names displayed on a monument or simply taking a moment to say thank you.
The memorial will include seating, a paved courtyard and will be handicapped accessible. Organizers plan to host tribute events on holidays that celebrate the armed forces.
“This memorial is not for a hero. It's for all of them — all of our veterans, past, present and future,” project chairman Hiawatha Bouldin said.
Bouldin is one of the friends Cornelius reached out to when suggesting an American flag be placed in the park. A former medical recruiter for Tinker Air Force Base, Bouldin remains involved in the Midwest City community.
“I was just the person to hop on board first,” Bouldin said.
“Considering that this place is what it is, in part, because of its strong military presence, we thought we needed something to show our appreciation. We want to put something out there that our children will appreciate. We want it to be more than a memorial; we want it to be a living monument,” Bouldin said.
Bouldin said The Midwest City Rotary Club provided part of the funds needed to begin the project. Financial assistance also came from private donors, Midwest City companies and fundraisers.
To enhance community involvement, project organizers reached out and gained support from local high school ROTC programs who have agreed to help keep the memorial area clean.
Bouldin said that for a fee any person can have a name inscribed on a brick that will become part of a monument.
“We want this to be the community's monument. One built by and for them and one that they can take pride in,” Bouldin said.
Originally, project organizers hoped to have the monument built by Veterans Day. Since organizers needed to extend the deadline they decided to partner with the city to host Midwest City's first Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 12 to celebrate the memorial's future groundbreaking.
“We are getting closer to it,” Howell said.
Cornelius said he is still surprised by the attention his idea received.
“All I wanted was a flag, a pole, a hole in the ground and cement. But people caught onto the sentiment and now it's become quite a tribute,” he said.
While Cornelius did not serve in the military, he said his family members did and he was taught to respect America and the flag.
“I didn't have the pleasure of serving but I'm very patriotic,” Cornelius said. “My parents and grandparents displayed the flag. It has helped us stay free all of these years; the least we can do is display it.”
Cornelius said though his idea sparked the project, he is not solely responsible.
“I just had the dream, but I'm not responsible for making it happen,” he said. “There's no way I could have done this all on my own. Without these people, I'd still be banging on doors.”
To find out more about Midwest City Veterans Memorial, to keep track of its progress, or to make a donation visit www.aplaceofhonor.org.