By LIBBY CLUETT
Mineral Wells Mayor Mike Allen has proclaimed Saturday, March 23, as Medal of Honor Day – the same day the Fort Wolters Gate Committee will dedicate the new memorial at Fort Wolters Historical Park.
The event begins shortly before 10 a.m. when the American Legion Riders and other motorcyclists surround the park. The park is located at the “Y” north of the historical Fort Wolters gateway entrance.
The small park took shape as early as the World War II era when it was called “Washington Park.”
After Fort Wolters closed the only remaining items in the park were a flagpole and one small piece of cement where a statue called "Salute" once stood.
In 1999, a group, called the Fort Wolters State Marker Committee, asked the City of Mineral Wells to name the park Fort Wolters Historical Park. The group erected a Texas Historical Commission marker. For 13 years the park existed unchanged, with just the state historical marker.
But in 2012, the Fort Wolters Gate Committee selected the site for a memorial to recognize Medal of Honor recipients who trained either at Camp Wolters during WWII, or Fort Wolters during the Vietnam War. There are currently 13 known Medal of Honor recipients who came through Mineral Wells for military training.
On March 23, 2012, the committee dedicated the park, designating it as the site for a future Medal of Honor memorial, but the group was uncertain as to when the memorial would take shape.
Generous donors and several hard-working people came together and the memorial began its formation last November, according to committee co-chair Mary Creighton.
“With the knowledge that National Medal of Honor day is March 25, it was decided to go with the March 23 date for this dedication,” she said of the forthcoming memorial dedication ceremony. “This will be on a Saturday and we hope the public can come out to see what has been done to the park and to see the wonderful memorial that has been built.”
Since focusing on the park last year, the group has added several items. The City of Mineral Wells gave the park a play cannon that was going to be retired from West City Park. It now has a new coat of paint.
The group knew of a playground helicopter that was in city storage and requested it for the park.
The helicopter was built by Perry Equipment Founder Dunman Perry, in honor of the helicopter pilots who trained at Fort Wolters. It also sports a new coat of paint – the same vibrant “International Orange” as the gate and as the original Fort Wolters' training helicopters that flew in the skies over Mineral Wells.
Mineral Wells Junior High School art teacher Jacki Bandy and her husband, Gary, repainted the jungle-gym helicopter and placed it at the park, much to the delight of many people who had fond memories of playing on the apparatus or viewing the helicopter at West City Park in the past.
Those coming to the March 23 dedication might consider arriving early, prior to the motorcycle riders who are estimated to arrive around 9:50 a.m. The ribbon cutting and ceremony begin at 10 a.m., and includes music and guest speakers.
Creighton said she expects to have U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway and State Rep. Jim Keffer on hand to say a few words and “There may be more.”
Lt.Col. Lee Evans, who is stationed at Fort Bragg, will do a special presentation from the Special Forces branch of the U.S Army.
“The program should last about 45 minutes,” Creighton noted. “If you care to bring a folding chair, that would be good. In case of bad weather, the ceremony will be held at the Mineral Wells Activity building, further north from the park, near the City Gym.”
Veterans can also visit the Veterans Mobile Unit that will be parked across the street from Fort Wolters Historical Park. Information and questions can be presented at this unit.