They all have their reasons for honoring veterans.
Some of the volunteers working on Sheridan’s Veterans Memorial Park are veterans themselves; some do it for family members. But James “J.D.” Allen may have the most poignant reason.
As a young man, Allen said he tried to enlist for military service during World War II, “but I was 4-F. I weighed 102 pounds and needed to be 104.
“I was in sports. Everything I ate, I worked off and didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing,” Allen said.
As a village board trustee and village president, Allen said the memorial got its start in 2006.
“We put playground equipment in the park (across from village hall) in 2005. (Trustee) Jeff Wilhelm said, ‘you’re getting the park fixed up, what about the one behind the building?’ I told him that’s the next project,” Allen said.
It could even be at that same meeting that Allen looked at Sheridan Police Chief Chuck Bergeron and said, “Thanks for volunteering, Chuck,” Bergeron said.
“I was honored to be ‘volunteered,’” Bergeron added.
An Army veteran, Bergeron said he has taken the project to heart in honor of his father, a Marine Corps veteran who saw some of the fiercest battles in the South Pacific during World War II.
Although Bergeron credits Allen with the original design, Allen said Bergeron provided pictures of a similar memorial he had seen while on vacation in Mississippi. They agree the original design has been “tweaked” throughout the process.
“I made a drawing for the original design and took it to a local architect. What took me a few hours to do took him a few minutes to do on the computer,” Allen said. “I still have that original drawing in a frame.”
Allen said the city-owned lot already contained a small monument when construction began on the current memorial.
While working one recent Saturday to place a bench in the area to honor those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Bergeron talked in greater detail about the funding of the project.
“This entire memorial was built with donations,” Bergeron said. Starting with fundraisers, poker runs and golf outings, he said they couldn’t seem to raise much money. Eventually, they hit on the idea of raffling firearms.
The weapons are not just any firearms. Bergeron said all the firearms raffled are like those used by the military to defend our nation. “Those are the only firearms I’ll raffle,” he said.
Among the firearms raffled have been a Springfield Armory M1A 7.62 rifle, a pair of Springfield Armory 1911 .45ACP pistols, a Springfield Armory M1 Garand and a Colt AR-15 .5.56 rifle.
This year, the committee is raffling a pair of World War I edition, consecutively-numbered Colt 1911 .45ACP pistols. Raffle tickets are $10 each. A firearm owner’s ID card is not necessary to buy a ticket, but is needed to claim the prize.
“If the winner doesn’t have a FOID card, I can either hold the pistols until they get one or I have a list of people willing to buy them,” Bergeron said.
“We believe in keeping the cost reasonable. I can find five people willing to buy a $10 raffle ticket a lot easier than I can find one willing to spend $50,” Bergeron added.
The 2012 raffle will conclude with a drawing during the Veterans Day ceremony at the memorial at noon on Monday, Nov. 12. The winner need not be present.
Along with support from all over the country in the form of raffle tickets, Bergeron said professionals like John Moran and Rick Moran have donated their time and talent to the construction process. Both men were on hand to assist in placing the bench. Village Trustee Tom Whitecotton assisted as well.
“We grew up here and our grandfather was the first mayor of Sheridan,” Rick Moran said.
Whitecotton said he is an Army veteran who was fortunate to serve during peacetime. He expressed his appreciation for Bergeron’s work on the memorial.
“The community can see the village is doing something to show appreciation for our veterans,” Whitecotton said.
Combat veterans and their families are invited to show their appreciation with a brick paver placed near the plaque for the time period during which he or she served. Each brick is etched with the vet’s name, branch of service and the war. Pavers are sold for $35 each and are limited to combat veterans initially.
“I’m sure we’ll open it up eventually to those who served during peacetime,” Bergeron said. “But for now, we want to make sure the combat veterans get the recognition they deserve.”
Bergeron also noted that every detail of the memorial, from the plaques to the flags to the bricks, was made in America.
“It costs a little more, but it’s worth it,” he said.
Serving with Allen and Bergeron on the memorial steering committee are Shelly Figgins, Jeannine Blasing and Lynette Bergeron.
For more information about the memorial or the schedule for the Veterans Day service, visit the village’s website at www.sheridan-il.us.