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Solution yet to be determined for Veteran’s plaque

David Ludovisse of the Veteran’s Park Committee presents an update on the planned Veteran’s Park to the Wadena City Council. The Council did not resolve the matter of a plaque containing proposed religious references that the committee plans to include as part of the city-owned park. Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

Although it was a topic of spirited discussion during Tuesday’s Wadena City Council meeting, the issue of excluding religious wording from a memorial plaque in the town’s proposed Veteran’s Park was not resolved.

However, the council voted to endorse the general layout of the city-owned park so the Veteran’s Park Committee could move forward with other preparations. The council also voted to fund its end of negotiations between the city attorney and the VFW’s attorney to create a usage agreement for the park, which would establish rules for things like how park maintenance would operate and who would insure the space.

The plaque in question includes the following proposed phrases: “Wadena Veteran’s Memorial”; “God Bless Our Military”; and “Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ and the American G.I. One died for your soul, the other died for your freedom.”

Dave Ludovisse of the Veteran’s Park Committee said the wording comes from the “Deceased Board” hanging in the Wadena VFW.

During the discussion of the memorial, each of the five voting members of the council expressed their personal opinion about the wording on the plaque. A majority of the members seemed opposed to the wording, but for differing reasons.

Mayor Wayne Wolden read aloud an e-mail he received from a Vietnam veteran opposed to the wording being included, which allegedly said the religious references would distract from the park’s main purpose of honoring veterans. He went on to say that a similar veteran’s memorial in Staples did not have religious references like the ones on the Wadena plaque.

Ludovisse said the Veteran’s Park Committee felt faith is a key element both for the VFW and military service in general.

“God is a very important part of the military career, especially if you’ve been in combat,” he said.

Wolden used the email as proof that there may be former service members who would disagree.

“Obviously, there are veterans who feel the other way,” Wolden said.

Council Member Toby Pierce said he’d rather see just a list of local veterans on the memorial.

“I would prefer you just have the veterans’ names there,” he said.

The memorial tablet on which the plaque would be placed is planned to be only one of multiple tablets displaying a list of local deceased veterans. In the case of the tablet with the “Two defining forces” plaque, one side of the tablet would be names, and the other would have the proposed religious wording.

Council Member Gillette Kempf said the wording could bring litigation against the city.

“My concern is that this is public land, and this will be a public project,” Kempf said. “Unfortunately in today’s society, there are groups of people that look for these kinds of situations to institute lawsuits, and I would hate to see the city become the defendant in such a lawsuit …”

Council Member Brian Hillesland said the problem with the wording is not that it is offensive, but that it is non-inclusive. Ludovisse said he had considered that concern, in light of the personal bond he felt with fellow service members.

“You know, I thought about that,” Ludovisse said. “I would hate to think that any one of my brothers who were in the military was left off of something.”

Hillesland later said he had consulted his own pastor on the matter, and reported what the pastor had told him.

“He said, ‘I think if I was a veteran or a G.I., I wouldn’t really feel comfortable being compared to Jesus Christ that way,’” Hillesland recalled.

Council Member Jeanette Baymler was against conceding to the organizations that could possibly take issue with the wording.

“I think we have gotten so afraid of some of these groups that stir up controversy,” she said. “Why do we give in to them? If they don’t like it, then they don’t have to come there.”

Being that the council approved the general layout of the park, its decision will assist the Veteran’s Park Committee in its applications to obtain decommissioned military vehicles for use as fixtures in the park, Ludovisse said.

Ludovisse also said he would report Tuesday’s events to the Veteran’s Park Committee for further action.