Veterans honored in unique way
Downstairs in the Rugby Veterans Memorial Hall, the dining room ceiling is slowly changing from an expanse of blank white tiles to a space dedicated to honor Pierce County veterans.
A two-foot by four-foot rectangle showing the name of a soldier, sailor, Marine or airman will eventually replace each plain ceiling tile. Each tribute tile will show the name of a soldier, sailor, Marine or airman, his or her rank at discharge, years of service and medals received. The tiles also feature emblems from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars or Disabled American Veterans, if the honoree was a member of any of those organizations.
Clarence Larson American Legion Post #23 Commander John Gustafson said 28 tiles are on the ceiling so far. “We’ve got more on order and we hope we generate a little more interest in this,” he said.
Gustafson said he hoped to highlight the memorial tiles at a public event later this year. “We might wait until Memorial Day if we have an actual in-person program. We’re hoping we can get something done before then, but we’ll wait and see.”
Ron Montonye, veterans service officer for Pierce County, said the honors are available to any honorably discharged veteran “with a connection to Pierce County.”
In a Feb. 2, 2020, column for the Tribune, Montonye said connections “would include a connection through birth, being raised in Pierce County, was inducted into the service while a resident of Pierce County or is, or at one time was, a resident of Pierce County.”
“The veteran can be living or deceased,” Montonye wrote, adding, “This is an ongoing project. There is no deadline when to apply.”
Montonye and Gustafson said Dale Niewoehner, owner of Niewoehner Funeral Home, has helped the tile project “quite a bit.”
“With families I serve and other people I know, I tell them about it and hope they’ll participate in the project, because it’s a worthwhile thing and these people need to be remembered,” Niewoehner said. “This is an excellent way to do that.”
One ceiling tile honors Niewoehner’s late father-in-law, John Jelsing.
“He died when Marilyn was in high school yet, so I never met him,” Niewoehner said.
Jelsing had served as a guard stateside in a P.O.W. camp during World War II.
“It was in Montana,” Niewoehner said of his father-in-law’s service guarding German prisoners of war. “After the war, some of these guys wrote letters to him thanking him for being so nice to them.”
Niewoehner said the letters were written in English when the released prisoners were in England waiting for repatriation to Germany. “Marilyn’s got three or four letters from these guys saying he was nice and kind to them. They were just soldiers,” Niewoehner added. “I think they helped combine and everything (in Montana). It was really interesting reading letters from these guys.”
One ceiling tile honors a private first class serving in World War I. The majority of the tiles list the names of World War II and Korea veterans. Montonye said no one has dedicated a tile to a Gulf War veteran yet.
Gustafson said honorees don’t have to be members of the American Legion, VFW, DAV or any organization to receive a tile; the only requirement is they must be veterans with a connection to Pierce County.
Montonye said family or friends of veterans may sponsor a tile, produced by Midwest Graphic, Anamoose, for $200. Sponsors must complete an application along with a check and a “copy of the veteran’s official discharge certificate,” known as a DD214.
“Using the DD214 will ensure the tile information is accurate as to the veteran’s military service,” Montonye noted in his Feb. 2020 column.
“Clarence Larson American Legion Post #23 and our local Sons of the American Legion Chapter hopes this project will be a success, as it is just another permanent way to express our appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifice made by our local veterans, both past and present,” Montonye wrote.
Montonye said he is available to answer questions about the tile project for those wishing to sponsor a vet at 776-5358.
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