CLARION — On Flag Day, June 14, Clarion County Commissioners Ted Tharan, Wayne Brosius and Ed Heasley, along with assorted dignitaries including state Senator Scott Hutchinson and state Representative Donna Oberlander, gathered in Clarion County Memorial Park to dedicate a recently installed monument honoring Persian Gulf-era veterans. The monument, a scale replica of a blast barrier common to the Middle East known as a Bremer T-Wall, sits along West Main Street in the shade of a maple tree across from the county’s courthouse.
In a letter from U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, read by his representative Deborah Pontzer, he wrote, “As you stroll around the park, there is a monument for every major war our country has fought in except for one. Today the park is complete with the installment of the Persian Gulf War Memorial monument.”
Tharan conceived the idea for the monument approximately a year-and-a-half ago, with plans for its installation on Memorial Day shifting into high gear during this past January.
“It’s important that we have this monument so the soldiers that were involved in these conflicts and wars at least have a monument before they die that they can go and see,” Tharan said prior to the event, noting that many of the county’s World War II veterans did not live until 2008 when a monument dedicated to their service was placed in the park.
With the idea in mind, he approached Steve Aaron, owner of Clarion Monuments, Inc., about making it a reality. Aaron, whose family has a history of military service and is himself a member of the Civil Air Patrol, embraced the project.
“Anything that we (Clarion Monuments) can do to support the people that have sacrificed so much for our freedoms. I like to say to people (that) the memorial is there for those who served in the military, but even their families, they sacrifice so much,” Aaron said in an earlier interview.
Made of gray granite from a quarry in Barre, Vermont, the six foot by seven foot monument features etchings of five service emblems (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard) and a mural of imagery associated with Persian Gulf-era operations and conflicts.
“We kind of started with a concept that we liked and then knew that we wanted to do the mural concept of various aspects of things that you would see if you were a Persian Gulf veteran,” Aaron said. “So basically we just started pulling imagery, as many as we thought looked meaningful. So basically I pulled 50 or 60 different images specific to the era.”
With such a wide assortment of images, Aaron turned to his company’s engraver/sandblaster, Jim “J.J.” Karg, for assistance in narrowing down the choices of what would be etched on the monument. Karg, an Army veteran, spent two tours of duty in Iraq as a cavalry scout, serving in 2003 and from 2007-2008.
Discussing the selection process alongside Aaron, Karg said, “Together we talked about what was relevant to that theater of operations and that time frame. And I kind of ... there were certain images that stood out to me as things that were ... that you saw almost day-to-day and were very common or were very relevant to that time period.”
“This monument is unique with the pictured scenes of combat that will help generations to come visualize the activities of war,” Thompson wrote in his letter.
In addition to helping select the images that were etched on the monument, Karg also engraved the lettering on its base. What began as a routine work assignment for Karg eventually became much more.
“Honestly, when we first found out about the possibility of doing the project it was just another project to me at first. But then when we started doing the drafting work and it came time to do the engraving it started to almost build where it was more and more meaningful,” Karg said.
“I didn’t expect it honestly, I thought it would just be another stone that I was engraving. But it did ... it kind of hit home a little bit. I was making it to honor my brothers. And when it came time to the day we set it, I was moved. I’ll admit it, I was moved. It was very emotional. I was very proud to do it and I was glad I could be a part of it.”
An invited speaker at the dedication, Karg noted that working on the monument was “an honor of a lifetime” during an emotion-laden speech delivered as he walked amongst those gathered.
Reaction to the monument has been positive. “Beautiful. There’s nothing else to describe it. Everybody has said it’s just gorgeous,” Tharan said.
Area veterans Luke Obenrader and Toby Karg say they are appreciative of the county’s support and decision to purchase and place the monument.
Obrander, from Lucinda, was deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the Army in 2005 and 2011-2012. “I would say that I’m humbled by it. It’s great how patriotic America has become post 9/11 and it seems like citizens haven’t forgotten about that,” Obenrader said.
Toby Karg, who’s brother J.J. did the monument’s engraving, was in Afghanistan from 2011-2012, earning a Purple Heart. The Army veteran from Tylersburg said, “I’m just grateful. It’s nice to see a little bit of appreciation you know. Something for our generation.”
According to Judy Zerbe, Clarion County Veteran Affairs director, approximately 226,461 Pennsylvanians served in the military during the period covered by the monument, which encompasses Operations Desert Shield (1990-1991), Desert Storm (1991), Enduring Freedom (2001-2015), Iraqi Freedom (2003-2011), New Dawn (2010-2011), Inherent Resolve (2014 to present), and Freedom’s Sentinel (2015 to present).
As part of the dedication ceremony, flags honoring ET3 Wayne Richard Weaver II, Spc. Frank Walls, Medal of Honor recipient Spc. Ross McGinnis, and Sgt. Joseph Garrison, Clarion County servicemen who died in the line of duty during the era, were placed at the base of the monument as a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”