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Leon Chambers stared at a row of pavers in front of him on a sun-kissed Thursday morning.
Visibly shaken, he rubbed his hand over one of the blocks, which happened to hold his name and a small description of his military service. Tears began to well as the weight of the surprise hit him.
“I didn’t know this was going to be here,” he said.
Rik Hawkins, a member of the Hardin County Veterans Tribute committee, smiled when informed of Chambers’ reaction and said he is humbled to be part of such a moving memorial.
“It’s been an amazing process, amazing journey,” he said.
With crates holding hundreds of bricks and pavers arriving this week, Hawkins and the committee called on the local veteran community to help sort and place commemorative markers in the exact locations where they will rest once the tribute is finished. They assembled a team of veterans from different wars and branches of the military.
A contractor aligned with McNutt Construction was scheduled to arrive Thursday afternoon to permanently place the bricks and pavers at the site, which is in the Elizabethtown Nature Park off Ring Road.
“It’s going to touch everyone that comes out here,” Hawkins said. At the same time, he hopes it inspires the next generation of young men and women who join one of the five military branches or civil service, all of which are represented at the memorial.
The team lined bricks and pavers into rows and placed them in their designated spots, forming human chains when needed to expedite the process.
Harry Braxton, a 22-year U.S. Army veteran and Hardin County deputy sheriff, said any volunteer work he does on behalf of fellow veterans or the veteran community is his personal tribute to those who served and their families.
“All these guys are family,” he said.
James Deneen, a Vietnam veteran, said he was amazed at how local sculptor Rich Griendling transformed works of clay into three-dimensional representations of the individual military branches. Deneen’s wife purchased a commemorative piece in honor of his service.
When he found out the committee needed help placing the bricks and pavers, he contacted Hawkins and told him he would be there.
“You know, it’s strange seeing one with your name on it,” Deneen said to Hardin County Property Valuation Administrator Danny Hutcherson as they sorted and place pavers.
“At least it doesn’t have a day of death on it,” Hutcherson said.
“No, not yet,” Deneen said. “I’m not ready to lie down yet.”
The mood was one of brotherhood as they worked diligently to arrange the bricks and pavers as needed. Hawkins served as primary organizer reading from a list of names and locations he had with him while Griendling fell in on the placement of bricks and pavers and shot video of the work.
Eddie Burgess, a 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran, said it was his first glimpse of the tribute on the ground. He has taken aerial shots of the site to capture construction progress for the committee.
“And it gives me an excuse to go flying,” he said.
Burgess commended the detail, craft and hard work poured into the tribute’s design.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “I think they did a beautiful job.”
Hawkins said the construction was delayed briefly by rain but the committee is on track to hold its opening ceremony next month on Veterans Day.
“It’s the last quarter mile that’s the toughest,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.