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A thick crowd stood silent, gazing up as each flag was raised, each creed was spoken and each statue was unveiled Sunday during the Hardin County Veterans Tribute dedication at the Elizabethtown Nature Park.
The bronze statues, sculpted by Elizabethtown artist Rich Griendling, represented each branch of the military with a flag from each branch flying overhead.
Griendling said it was an honor to be asked to be involved in the project, which took a lot of research and four years to complete.
He joked of the models for the service members he sculpted, “If you were 6-foot-4 and in good shape, you were in my crosshairs.”
The nice thing was the people he asked for help always said yes, and the community rallied around the project, he said.
Maj. Gen. David Mann, commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said a true testament to how much a community supports the military is how many veterans choose to retire there.
The number of veterans in Hardin County shows how comfortable service members feel and how welcoming their neighbors are to them and their families, he said.
“Today is a perfect example of this county embracing your Army, embracing all of the services out there,” he said.
Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker said he grew up the son of a veteran in a community having an appreciation of Veterans Day he didn’t fully understand.
He said he now knows the freedoms secured by veterans allowed him to grow up to run a business, become mayor and live free with his family and neighbors.
“As you look around you, you may see statues, but I see an Army soldier and a Navy sailor,” he said. “I see the military who served in this area.”
Elizabethtown and Hardin County are proud communities full of people who have served in the military, Walker said.
The nature park is meant to help citizens reflect upon their roots, and the military roots in the area are among the most important to remember, Walker said.
“This is a tribute to each of you,” he said to military members. “This ground is built on your strength, and may God bless each and every one of you.”
Veterans Tribute board member Rik Hawkins said it’s important to recognize Americans who put their lives on the line for the ideas on which the country was founded.
“Each brick tells a story — the story of a soldier, yes, but the soldier of a family,” he said.
Hawkins said he hopes children and those who visit the site decades from now will look at it and remember how important service members have been and how grateful the community is to them.
“This tribute is our way of saying ‘thank you’ for all that you have done for our county and for all that you have done for our country,” he said.
Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or firstname.lastname@example.org.