News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 7, 2014

Veterans call on commissioners to protect war memorial

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

SULLIVAN — Installing a camera on the second floor of the Sullivan County Courthouse may be one solution to curtailing what several veterans are calling a disgrace to a memorial that honors Americans who gave their lives in service to the country.

David Haddix, chief deputy of the Sullivan County Sheriff’s department, told county commissioners on Monday night that officers have to witness an act of vandalism occurring to make an arrest, something that can be difficult.

Grover Monroe, a vice commander of the American Legion Post No. 139, suggested placing a surveillance camera, then using its video as a means of prosecuting any person who vandalizes the memorial on the southwest corner of the county courthouse.

He was among more than 15 veterans who confronted county commissioners seeking action to curtail vandalism of the memorial.

Superior Court Judge Robert Springer called the camera suggestion “a good idea and once a few arrests are made, I bet it (vandalism) stops.”

The issue arose after Memorial Day, when Post 139 contracted to have landscaping upgraded around the steps in front of the memorial. River rock was used as ground cover, but those rocks where thrown into the street, breaking some downtown windows.

Herman Grindle, commander of American Legion Post, said the landscaping and river rock cost about $500. “We didn’t think the rocks would grow legs and walk off, but apparently they did.”

Commissioner Luke Misner said he had the rock replaced with mulch, which was done on Saturday. Commissioner President Ray McCammon said the site is an attraction, as it the only side of the courthouse square with steps.

“We still have a major concern with young people disrespecting and vandalizing the area by leaving trash, walking through the landscaping and sitting on the monuments,” said Gene Hoesman, vice commander of the American Legion’s Indiana 7th District.

Hoesman said Sullivan County has five legion posts and one Veterans of Foreign Wars post with 890 veteran members. Sullivan County “has 2,226 veterans who receive $4.5 million in direct compensation and pension. These veterans spend much of that amount in Sullivan County. These veterans and their families are also potential voters in the county and city elections,” Hoesman said.

“But more importantly, 169 veterans from Sullivan County paid the ultimate price and are memorialized on the monuments” that honor veterans of World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and veterans from other conflicts in wars against terrorism,  Hoesman said.

“These veterans served and died in fighting to preserve and protect the freedoms that we enjoy today. These freedoms, however, should not be defined as to allow and condone irresponsible and disrespectful behavior,” Hoesman said.

Sullivan resident Marti Bodine said there is a concern about noise from people hanging out near the memorial late at night. Bodine suggested more police patrols to enforce curfews. Haddix said many people in the square at night are in their mid-20s and would not be impacted by a city or county curfew.

Springer said he plans to talk to Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb about having more city patrols around the courthouse square. “This is something we should all be concerned about,” Springer said.

Ron Gadberry, historian for Post 139, said he thinks “this is more of a social issue than a police issue,” adding people need to be educated about the importance of war memorials “and understand and respect” what the veterans have done.

No decision was reached by commissioners on Monday. McCammon said the board will research county enforcement ordinances and the idea of placing a camera that could be monitored “in real time” at the site.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.