By RICK HAYES email@example.com
---- — BLUFORD — Prior to and during the height of the Persian Gulf War, the village of Bluford was unable to show its support to American troops. It had no flag pole or no other structure to fly Old Glory.
A conversation at a village board meeting led to the development of the Bluford Community Veterans Memorial Committee, which eventually led to the community's memorial.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Memorial Day 1991 and a dedication service on Veterans Day — Nov. 11, 1991, for the $25,000 project. The village has conducted Memorial Day services at the memorial ever since.
"The board decided they wanted to have a community memorial," said Mike Bullard, who agreed to coordinate the formation of the committee. The committee was organized by soliciting volunteers from the Bluford Ruritan Club, American Legion Post 1193 and its women's auxiliary, Sons of the Legion, and the Yellow Ribbon Committee, which eventually disbanded.
Architectural Services Inc. of Mt. Vernon drew up the plans for the memorial.
"For such a small town of 700 people, we've had really impressive turnouts for our services and the support has been amazing," Bullard said.
Several years ago, the Committee was faced with a crisis in that it was running out of space at the memorial site.
"We had so many crosses, and it was difficult to make sure we had all the crosses out, and with keeping up with the maintenance," Bullard explained. "Robert Knauss came up with the idea to consolidate those, having the names displayed on bricks or in some other way like that. We brought the Committee back together and reviewed the situation and came up with several options. We came back with the idea we wanted to have an additional sidewalk and a cross to the unknown soldier."
Bullard said the village board was impressed with the idea and offered its financial support.
"We're going to add two vertical (gray granite) stones, and we'll start placing names on those. We haven't decided how many names yet. Currently, there are 551 crosses, and we kicked it around to maybe put 200 names on the stones, putting the oldest names up first. That would leave 350 crosses, and as that number, we could transfer some of those over to the back side of the stones," he said. "It's going to be a memorial that grows with the community."
The expansion project, which will also include flag poles for the Illinois state and POW flags, is expected to cost an additional $20,000, according to estimates. Much of the labor for the original memorial, and the expansion, has been donated.
"It shows respect for the men and women that have went and fought for our country, and died for our country," said Committee member Bobby Ellis.
"I think it's the center point for the village for the community to come and honor veterans," added Butch Baker, a member of the Committee and a village board member. "I also think it's one of the better ones in this part of the state."
Committee members indicated that fundraising efforts have not been difficult.
"It's not been difficult at all," said Ruby Goldman, who added the Ruritans have a breakfast every year with the proceeds designated for the memorial.
"If we have the money, we'll put more into it," said Baker. "It looks nice if you keep putting money into it, and the organizations have been supportive. It just keeps growing every year."
"This memorial just says something about Bluford that makes it special," Bullard said. "A small town of 700 that its people would have enough conscious in their heart to want to honor the veterans says a lot that you just don't find in every town in America."