Leaders, veterans clash over designation of Marion County Veterans Memorial Park

Leaders, veterans clash over designation of Marion County Veterans Memorial Park

November 1st, 2011 by By Ryan Lewis, Correspondent in News

Korean War Veteran Joe Coffman pushes a load of ground covering plants as he and Vietnam Veteran Joe Morrison, upper left, put the finishing touches on the two-month-old Marion County Veterans Memorial Park in Whitwell in this file photo.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

POLL: Do you agree with the decision to designate the Marion County Veterans Memorial Park as the county's Official Veterans Park?

JASPER, Tenn. -- An apparent misunderstanding recently led to heated words from veterans to some Marion County commissioners.

A proclamation to make the recently completed Marion County Veterans Memorial Park in Whitwell, Tenn., the county's official veterans park prompted some officials to question the need for such a designation.

Commissioner Wayne Willis said he wanted to make sure all the county's veterans organizations were "on board with declaring that park the Marion County Veterans Park."

"I don't think that has happened yet, and I'd like to see that happen before I vote for it," he said.

Joe Morrison, an official with the veterans' park in Whitwell, said all veterans organizations in the county had been involved with the park.

Commissioner Donald Blansett said he would "have no problem" with the proclamation if it were designated as "another veterans park."

"To call it the [official] Marion County Veterans Memorial, I don't know if I'm ready to vote for that or not," he said.

County Mayor John Graham said he spoke with some veterans recently who said they weren't sure how they felt about the name because they thought a similar designation had been made years ago for the veterans memorial area at Jasper's Courthouse Square.

No evidence of an official label for the Jasper site was found, he said.

"The issue is if we're going to offend some other veterans group by [giving the park this designation]," Commission Chairman Les Price said. "I guess my question would be what the significance of [the name] is. Is that going to benefit the organization in some way? Are there grants available?"

Several veterans at the meeting took offense to the questions about the proclamation.

"It benefits my heart and other veterans' hearts to have a veterans' park in this county," Morrison said.

"We in Whitwell are very proud of the veterans memorial park," resident Steve Hudson said. "It is meant to be a sacred place for the veterans of Marion County."

Commissioner Jane Dawkins suggested simply changing the words "The Official" to "An Official" in the proclamation, but that did not satisfy the veterans in attendance.

Commissioner Louin Campbell said banners and advertisements frequently displayed around the memorial at Jasper's Courthouse Square are "disrespectful," and that would never happen at the park in Whitwell.

"I have no qualms with [Whitwell's park] being Marion County's park," he said.

The board voted unanimously to designate the park the Official Veterans Park of Marion County.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.