Neglected war memorial again stands at attention

A group of patriotic police officers and firefighters spruced up the monument.
YOUNGSTOWN -- As war memorials go, it's not much to look at.
It doesn't capture the swashbuckling drama of a cavalry soldier with sword drawn, urging his trusted steed to charge.
It doesn't depict battle-weary Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi in 1945.
The nondescript war memorial on South Avenue is a forgotten relic set in place more than 40 years ago.
The dedication reads "to men and women of this community who served this nation in peace and in war."
It lists eight wars, beginning with the Revolutionary War (1775 to 1783) and ending with Korea (1950 to 1953).
Counting the base, it's barely 8 feet tall. The pinkish-gray granite slab, sorely in need of caulk at the base, resembles a tombstone.
On either side of the monument, overgrown hedges with tree saplings poking through threatened total camouflage.
Behind it, a grimy American flag added to the overall feeling of neglect.
Until Tuesday, that is.
That's when city police officers and firefighters put their patriotism to work.
Crew shows up
At 7 a.m., police Capt. Dave Williams showed up with hedge clippers.
He buzzed the bushes with the precision of a landscape artist.
He escaped the 90-plus-degree heat that, by midmorning, greeted Patrolmen Bill Ward, Bill Burton, Frank Bigowsky and Joe Moran.
The officers spent hours clearing brush and removing bricks that lined the small concrete approach to the monument, erected just south of Marion Avenue. The bricks had to be dug out with shovels.
Ward brought bags of mulch and mums.
The grand design, he said, includes planting flowers in front of the now-neat hedges and where the bricks once laid.
"I didn't notice it was here, and I run past here every day," Ward said, leaning on a shovel and looking at the monument. "One day, I saw it and stopped."
That's when the idea came to him. Why not, as a patriotic way to remember Sept. 11, spruce up the war memorial? Why not see who wants to help?
Finding volunteers
Ward, a Marine veteran, had no trouble finding willing workers.
Throughout Tuesday, off-duty police officers and firefighters stopped by to help. Some, like Bigowsky and Patrolman Jimmy Rowley, are laid off.
"One guy walked by, saw what we were doing and said: 'It's about time,' " Burton said.
Burton wondered how the flowers would get watered. There's no water source nearby.
"I know the fire department has hoses," Ward joked.
City police, he said, will assume maintenance of the grounds around the monument.
"I grew up in the city; I wanted to give something back," Burton said of his reason for sweltering in the noonday sun.
His fellow officers expressed similar sentiments.
Bigowsky, who grew up in Girard, said he'd help as soon as Ward mentioned the Sept. 11 project. Bigowsky had only one question: Where's the monument?
Crane Memorial, Ward said, will engrave the missing wars on the monument: Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War and Operation Enduring Freedom. The last has no end date.
Moran, an Air Force veteran, said he's eager to see Vietnam, especially, added to the granite. His father is a retired colonel who served in the southeast Asian war.
New flag
Tuesday afternoon, fire Capt. James Hellman and firefighter Charlie Smith replaced the grimy Stars and Stripes with a new flag.
The flag really isn't new. It's just never been flown before.
It was used once, in 1996, to drape the coffin of Nicholas Pregibon, a Navy veteran and South Side resident. Pregibon served on a PT boat during World War II.
His widow donated the flag after listening to Ward, her neighbor, describe his plans for the memorial that sits at the edge of South Side Park.
"I'm proud of Youngstown. I hope it makes a comeback," Freda Pregibon, 81, told The Vindicator. "My husband and I were born here."
Burton said the old flag will be burned on Veterans Day in November.
Park in disrepair
The police officers, in an effort to find some shade Tuesday, followed the winding concrete path that leads down into South Side Park from South Avenue. A rickety, rust-spotted metal railing passes through overgrown weeds and trees that form a canopy over the walkway.
Chain-link fence, now vine covered, borders the sidewalk as it makes its way west through the park. A shabby bath house sits abandoned with signs posted that warn visitors to be there at their own risk.
Quite a change from the park's heyday.
The saucer-shaped swimming pool was filled in more than a dozen years ago. A grassy field is in its place.
"The pool was like North Side's," Moran said. "I used to come here. It wouldn't take much to get this park going again."
The officers, as they strolled through the deserted park, imagined how nice it would be to have playground equipment there again and ball fields.
Moran suggested that juvenile offenders do community service at the park, picking up litter and cutting grass.
"One step at a time," Burton said. "Let's do the monument first."

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