Cary Collins and Larry Powalisz
The Nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.
“All communities make claims to being great, but truly great communities are ones that recognize and honor their own who have worn their nation’s uniform.” Those are the words of Brett Habenicht, president of a grassroots organization in Maple Valley dedicated to insuring that the military service of their local residents is not overlooked or forgotten. For the past five years, Habenicht has envisioned a memorial on which the names of the veterans of this small suburban King County town are inscribed. The site is sacred ground where family members, loved ones, and friends come to visit, pause, reflect, connect and reconnect. The memorial is a catalyst focusing attention on veterans and veterans’ issues (a purpose that has been encapsulated in a mission statement that reads: “Honoring the past by caring for the present”). “This project is more than just a few walls,” Habenicht expounds. “It is going to be a durable and meaningful living memorial for those from our community who answered the call to serve.” That he grew up in Maple Valley and enlisted in the Navy out of Tahoma Senior High School has instilled Habenicht with a deep sense of the emotional impact such personal public space can have. When he shared his vision with another community member, United States Marine Storm McNeil, a partnership was forged that has been unwavering in its commitment to shepherding this salute to veterans into reality.
It has proved one requiring a team of hands and skills. Habenicht and McNeil formed the Greater Maple Valley Veterans Memorial Foundation in 2013. The seven appointed board members started with an idea and the hurdles were many. There was the site selection process and required land requisition. There were architectural renderings to be drawn, and local government agency approvals and permissions to be procured. Section 501(c)(3), tax exempt charitable status, had to be applied for and granted and partnerships had to be entered into (with the City of Maple Valley and the Maple Valley Community Center). Broad ideas were cemented into concrete plans, meetings were held, and presentations were given—a daunting slate of meetings and presentations. Finally, by February 2016, those had all been put in the past. The groundwork had been laid to build what has been named the Greater Maple Valley Veterans Memorial, which will be located on property at the corner of Witte Road and SE 248th Street.
The emphasis has now shifted to fundraising. An estimated $350,000-plus is needed for construction to begin. The campaign to raise that amount is far-reaching. Selling 100 twelve-inch-square charter bricks for $1,000 each is the foundation’s signature project. Smaller bricks are also being sold at prices that range from $100 to $500. Each purchase comes with a keepsake certificate bearing the name of the donor and the name of the veteran. The veteran’s name, their service branch, and years of service will be engraved into each brick as well. All honorably discharged service members, from any era, whether living or deceased or having Maple Valley ties, are eligible for brick acknowledgment. Commemorative challenge coins, t-shirts, and caps featuring the foundation’s logo are also available for purchase. Corporate and private sponsorships, direct donations, grants, in-kind contributions, and community events such as the Running of the Balls during Maple Valley Days will bring in the remainder of the money. To raise awareness of the project, student board member Joshua Hren of Tahoma Senior High School has created a series of informational and public service announcement videos that have been posted to the foundation’s website and to social media sites such as Facebook. The goal is to break ground this coming August and hold the dedication ceremony on Veterans Day 2017. The timetable is ambitious, but one that the members of the board feel they can meet.
The memorial has been designed with three objectives in mind: to be striking in appearance and aesthetically pleasing, to be compatible with and an enhancement to the natural setting and surrounding built structures, and to be of a stature worthy of the military service of the veterans it honors. As described by board members Daniel Neilsen and Jim Flynn, the outer circle of the memorial will measure approximately fifty feet across from outside bench to outside bench. Etched into the black granite in-lays of five interior walls (each wall representing one of the military service branches) will be the names of veterans who have lived or are living within the historic boundaries of the Tahoma School District. The centerpiece will be a large American flag that will fly from a thirty-foot flagpole. Service branch flags and a POW-MIA flag on twenty-five-foot poles will flank the American flag. A walkway of bricks showcasing the names of veterans will lead into the memorial. Rows of charter bricks will be visible inside the large circle but outside the smaller one. Privacy will be afforded for individual visitors and families and public space for ceremonies and events.
The Greater Maple Valley Veterans Memorial will be a touchstone addition to the city, a means of remembering, celebrating, and saying thank you to those who served. In the opinion of Brett Habenicht, its significance cannot be overstated. “Our community, like many small communities throughout the country, is full of men and women who answered the call to serve their country,” he says in summary of why such consecrated ground is appropriate and necessary. “Quite simply, the genesis of the foundation was that the memorial would be a fitting tribute to veterans and a visual reminder to all who live here that we live among real-life heroes.”
Those wishing to donate to the construction of the memorial, purchase a brick or other items, or receive additional information may visit the foundation’s webpage at http://maplevalleyvets.org/ or their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GMVVMF/.