BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (FOX 9) - The green space behind the Bloomington Civic Plaza is now on track to become a first-of-a-kind veterans memorial that focuses on telling stories of service.
"I think for the veteran, it’s very important," said Duane Brinkman of Bloomington Remembers Veterans, the non-profit organization that is planning the construction of the Bloomington Veterans Memorial. "I think people that haven’t been in the service need to hear some of those stories."
Brinkman has his own story of service in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam conflict. "I spent a year and a half in Denver at Lowry Air Force Base, then I spent a year in Pleiku, Vietnam," recalled Brinkman of his time as an accounting and finance specialist.
"The Vietnam veterans still haven’t kind of talked a lot about their world and when they came back," said Brinkman.
A key feature of the planned memorial will give them along with all living or deceased veterans a place to have their stories told. The memorial as conceived by architects will be designed with six arch-like armatures, one representing each branch of the service. Suspended from the armatures will be upwards of 2,000 oversized dog tags.
"You’ll have your name, you’ll have your service branch, you’ll have your years of service, but then you’ll have your QR code," explained Kate Blessing about the scannable digital code on each dog tag. "And that QR code will be able to go from a digital device, bring up that special page about that veteran right up to your mobile device, and you can learn more about their service."
Among the first veterans to buy a dog tag for the memorial is Bob Works. As a U.S. Navy musician in the early 1960s, Works has recorded a video recalling the time he had to play taps for the funeral of a fallen sailor in Charleston, South Carolina.
"We were on our way there to play with the rifle squad, and we found ourselves off-road," recalled Works in a 2022 interview with FOX 9. "And I'm looking around as to where are we? And one of the members of the rifle squad just said, ‘We're playing and doing this ceremony for a Black man. And Black people aren't allowed to be buried in the cemetery here in Charleston.’ And that was a shocking moment."
The goal is for visitors to the Bloomington memorial as a portal to these kinds of stories, any story the veterans wants to tell of their service.
"We’re really thinking about it being this living history right here on this property where those stories can come alive," said Blessing.
The efforts just received a major boost from the Minnesota state legislature. On the final day of the legislative session, lawmakers appropriated $350,000 to the Bloomington Veterans Memorial in the bonding bill, otherwise known as the infrastructure construction bill. Once Governor Walz signs the bill, it’s hoped construction could possibly start next fall.
"We are excited," beamed Brinkman. "I’m hoping Memorial Day, 2024 we have that ribbon cutting ceremony."
Any veteran living or dead can get their name on a dog tag and added to the memorial. The memorial committee is selling them for $350 to help defray the cost of the memorial. The dog tags are open to any veteran regardless of where they live or where they are from and can be purchased on the Bloomington Veterans Memorial website, found here.
"We have 2,000 dog tags that will be available," explained Blessing. "We had a lot of folks that gave dog tags as Christmas gifts. We’ve had milestone birthdays and retirements from the military. People have bought dog tags for all kinds of special events."
It’s the hope of the planners that their vision will create a one-of-a kind veterans’ memorial that is more than just a collection of names, but instead a vehicle for storytelling.
"We are so excited about this memorial that we think it will be a visitor’s destination, that people will want to come to Bloomington to see this memorial," said Brinkman. "Thanks to these veterans, it’s a fabulous country. And people should know who those veterans are."