By TESA CULLI
MT. VERNON —
The construction phase for the Daughters of the American Revolution Memorial to Honor Women Veterans officially began on Friday with a groundbreaking ceremony.
“With the support of the 7,500 Illinois Daughters and the Illinois Department of the American Legion Commander Richard C. Groharing, we set out to erect a tribute to encompass the first women veterans of the Revolutionary War to today’s women veterans who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan and world-wide,” said Luanne Frosch Bruckner, Illinois State Regent DAR. “The faces of Molly Pitcher, Margaret Ludwig Hays from the Revolutionary War to today’s women veteran, represented by Tammy Duckworth, deputy director of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C., an Iraqi veteran who lost both of her legs after being shot down in Iraq, were used for the sculpture. Tammy is also a member of the DAR.”
Linda Page, the president of the library board, said the groundbreaking is the culmination of a year of work by the library and the Illinois DAR.
“It’s exciting,” Page said. “We were surprised when they first called to say we had been selected for this honor. The whole library board is excited.”
Mayor Mary Jane Chesley said the excitement and enthusiasm of the ladies of the DAR has spilled over into Mt. Vernon, and a partnership between the DAR and the city has been formed.
“It is a great honor for the city of Mt. Vernon to be chosen as the site for such a monument and recognition,” Chesley said. “This will be the 15th sculpture for the city of Mt. Vernon. And, if you go to Cedarhurst, where the sculpture park is, there are 63 sculptures there. ... This is a city and a county that truly believes in honoring its veterans.”
Chesley reminded the crowd in attendance the Illinois DAR genealogy library is located at Brehm, and the memorial is the only one honoring women veterans outside of Washington, D.C.
“In the terms of the younger generation, this project makes the DAR the BFF of Mt. Vernon,” Chesley joked.
Illinois Department American Legion Commander Richard Groharing said a monument to honor women for their service to the country is long over due.
“It goes back to the beginning of the nation,” Groharing said. “Women have always stepped up to serve, either as non-combatants providing support for the soldiers or, in more recent times, as part of the service. ... Since 1940, we’ve had a draft, and our draft is only for males. Women have volunteered to serve.”
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus commented on being an alumni of West Point.
“I graduated with the first class of women who were allowed to serve,” Shimkus said. “It was the class of 1980 when 60 trailblazing women entered the military with me in May 1980. I want to thank the DAR and the volunteers for what they are doing here today. ... This is a tribute to the women who, without their help, the service we need for this country couldn’t be done.”
Bruckner told how the idea for a memorial honoring women veterans came into being.
“Many years ago, a DAR, a former Army nurse, Gertrude Peterson of Rockford, told of her experiences as her group of nurses landed a few days after D-Day,” Bruckner said. “She inspired those listening with her matter-of-fact story of the incredible services given by these women. As an active member of the DAR, (I) have seen much of Illinois, and nowhere could (I) find a statue erected to honor only women veterans. A dream of creating such a tribute formulated and in 2008, upon accepting the nomination to lead the Illinois State organization as the Daughters of the American Revolution, a project was born.”
Page said construction on the site should begin next week, weather permitting. The sculptures are to be placed just before the official dedication of the memorial on June 18.