Designs for a massive veterans memorial in Chandler’s Veterans Oasis Park received unanimous approval from the city’s Parks and Recreation Board Tuesday.
Funding for the $1 million projected price tag, however, is nowhere in sight.
Chandler’s vision of a future memorial — in the park’s southeast corner, northeast of Chandler Heights and Lindsay roads in southeast Chandler — is on a grand scale: a wide open plaza of grass and standing stones, the landscape evocative of a gently rippling American flag.
Construction could be several years out because of the budget crunch, said Mickey Ohland, Chandler parks development and operations manager.
“Right now, there’s no funding that’s been identified for this project,” Ohland said. “With the economy the way it is, I would hate to venture a guess right now.”
The landscape architecture firm Olsson Associates drafted the preliminary designs, which call for the use of stone plinths of various heights and a grass field to create the impression of the undulating Stars and Stripes. An adjacent concrete courtyard with steps allowing visitors to stroll among the stones resembles the Arizona state flag.
OLD SAILOR’S SUPPORT
Navy veteran William Harper, 83, has been one of the memorial’s boosters.
The Sun Lakes resident — who serves as the current Arizona state commander for the National Association of Atomic Veterans, a past regional commander for the Military Order of Purple Hearts, and a former national Veterans of Foreign Wars officer — said the idea for a veterans park including a memorial arose a few years ago when Chandler officials proposed building several parks to accommodate new growth.
“I said, ‘A little park would be fine.’ They said, ‘How about a big park?’ I said, ‘That would be better,’” Harper said.
The result was the 113-acre Veterans Oasis Park. The $22 million park — which features the city’s Environmental Education Center, an urban fishing lake and plenty of trails — opened in March 2008. Space was reserved in the park’s southwest corner for a future veterans memorial.
Harper served as a gunner on a torpedo plane during World War II in the South Pacific. He was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds sustained while attacking a Japanese convoy. He served as an airborne gunner in the Korean War, as well.
“We used to pick up pilots who were shot down and bring them back to the ship,” he said.
In July 1946, he witnessed the explosion of two nuclear bombs at Bikini Atoll. Doctors later told him the radiation may have weakened his immune system, leaving him open to polio. Harper has used a wheelchair for about 10 years.
He’s been involved before in veterans projects, such as getting Interstate 40 designated as Arizona’s Purple Heart Trail. He said there’s also a Purple Heart memorial at the state Capitol.
Harper said such endeavors have helped occupy the time, especially since his wife passed away a few years ago.
“I’ve got to have something to do to keep from going wacky,” he said.
LOOKING FOR FUNDING
Ohland said officials have held three meetings over the last several months with residents and veterans groups about potential designs for the memorial.
“They have helped us come up with this concept with their ideas,” Ohland said.
The next step, if officials approve, would be to identify some funding source, he said. It could take several years.
“We’ll start looking to see if there are any grant opportunities out there,” Ohland said.
Harper said if the city would authorize it, he would organize a campaign for private donations through the Military Order of Purple Hearts.
“If they’d give me the OK, I’d go for it,” he said. “I’ve done it before.”