BELDING — More than 64 years ago, veterans in the Belding area celebrated Memorial Day by marching through the streets of the city and holding a ceremony at the original Freedom Wall located on the corner of Bridge and Main streets.
Now, years after that wall was decommissioned, leading to holding Memorial Day ceremonies in various locations including the Veterans Memorial Bridge and Riverside Cemetery, veteran and Belding resident Denny Craycraft is proud to see that once again, Belding has a central location in Veterans Park for the community to come together and honor its veterans.
Craycraft watched Monday, with emotion heavy in his heart, as a new monument honoring veterans from every branch of the military, was carefully placed in front of the Freedom Wall, which was completed last November.
“I’m proud,” Craycraft said. “The Freedom Wall is for WWII, but I also want everyone to know that this is going to be a park for all veterans. This is your place. Every branch, every era of war.”
The new monument, built from granite which was shipped from India and constructed by Patton Monuments out of Comstock Park, is the first of several additional monuments that will be placed at the new park throughout the next few years.
It features the insignia of all five branches of the military, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and also includes the Merchant Marines.
On the bottom corners of the monument the emblems of Belding American Legion Post 203 and Belding VFW 4406 have also been inscribed, along with an inscription that reads “You are not forgotten.”
Featured in the center is an emblem honoring prisoners of war and those who are missing in action.
“Our community has went through a lot of heartaches and this is bringing them together,” Craycraft said. “This community is so veterans-orientated. People come up and shake our hands and say thank you; well, this thank you is to them.”
Along with new monument’s arrival on Monday, hundreds of bricks were also brought on site, with 300 of them inscribed with the names of veterans and others to be remembered.
The bricks will be placed throughout the next two weeks into gaps in the concrete surface in front of the Freedom Wall, new monument, and two other areas to the side of the wall that will eventually feature additional monuments dedicated to other wars.
New three dimensional lettering will also replace the current lettering on the Freedom Wall that has already faltered from the winter weather.
Gary Hoisington of Belding, who served in the Navy and fought in Saudi Arabia and Somalia, has spent hours assisting Craycraft with various tasks associated with the new park. Hoisington was in awe when he watched the new monument be placed into its new home.
“There’s a lot of work that his gone into this,” he said. “Denny has busted his hump to make this happen. To actually see this, right in front of us right now, it nearly brings a tear to your eye.”
Hoisington said having a Veterans Park in Belding is an asset that has been long overdue.
“It means a lot for Belding,” he said. “It’s somewhere where people can come back and say ‘that was my dad or that was my mom.’ It shows that the people in this community care. We’re showing other cities how much we care about both our past and our future.”
The ceremony on Memorial Day, May 27, will began with veterans marching along Depot Street at 10 a.m. from the American Legion at 121 Broas St. to the new Veterans Park west of the Pere Marquette Depot.
“We’re going to have a re-dedication of the wall because the bricks will finally be in place,” Craycraft said. “The new monument will also be dedicated.”
Craycraft said he is proud to see the Memorial Day ceremony moved from Riverside Cemetery to the Freedom Wall, because that is where the ceremonies were originally held before the wall was decommissioned in 1948.
“To me, this will be a different Memorial Day ceremony, but for our WWII guys, this is what they used to do,” he said. “When we get things done here, getting the sod in, getting the bricks in, it will be a masterpiece.”
Craycraft said bleachers will be placed along Depot Street to provide ample seating for the Memorial Day ceremony.
Though the new monument is now in place, Craycraft said he is still in need of approximately $5,800 in funds to finish paying for the granite structure and has until September to raise the money. Blank bricks placed on the site can be inscribed with the name of a veteran at a cost of $50.
Call Craycraft at (616) 550-6990 for more information or to donate.
“Anything anyone can do to help would be much appreciated,” Craycraft said. “I’m confident the people in this community will reach out, I could not be happier or more proud.”