Honoring Veterans: High hopes for $3.5 million Cobb memorial

Left: Veteran volunteers pose on the site of a planned memorial to military servicemembers (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com). Right: A rendering of the planned memorial by Croft and Associates (courtesy of the Cobb Veterans Memorial Foundation).

Left: Veteran volunteers pose on the site of a planned memorial to military servicemembers (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com). Right: A rendering of the planned memorial by Croft and Associates (courtesy of the Cobb Veterans Memorial Foundation).

A towering monument to Cobb military veterans planned for Fairground Street in Marietta could get underway next year after more than four years of volunteer efforts and some delays.

A small group of veterans that make up the Cobb Veterans Memorial Foundation has shepherded the monument through a long planning phase, and hopes to begin fundraising in earnest soon, with construction tentatively scheduled for 2020.

Last week, the county approved an agreement governing the release of $250,000 in seed money for the $3.5 million project, with the rest expected to be funded through private donations.

“I think it’s important for the country and Cobb County in particular to say, ‘Thank You,’” said retired Major General Jim Bankers, who leads the memorial foundation. “The price of our freedom is very, very high, and it’s won by our veterans.”

Bankers said the project was delayed by the lengthy process of choosing a site, hiring an architect, establishing a non-profit organization and local elections that shook up the board of commissioners. But he expressed confidence that with the county’s contribution, the memorial would progress much more quickly.

The memorial was first proposed by former Cobb commission Chairman Tim Lee in 2015 and has received the full support of former and current commissioners.

Last year, the board approved $250,000 in the budget to get the project going. But since then, the county and the foundation have struggled to craft a memorandum of understanding for oversight of the funds.

7/3/2019 — Marietta, Georgia — Army Veteran Captain Nurse Corp. Donna Rowe (left), Navy Veteran Lt. Commander Shelley O’Malley (center) and Army Veteran Bob Moreland (right), board members of the Cobb County Veterans Memorial Foundation, Inc., talk amongst themselves near the Cobb County Aquatic Center in Marietta, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. This area is the future site of the Cobb County Veterans Memorial. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

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Commissioners Keli Gambrill and Lisa Cupid emphasized their support for the memorial but said they could not support the memorandum after their motion to table it for further study failed as last minute changes were made ahead of the vote.

“I do take this seriously and I thank you for your service,” Gambrill told the veterans at the commission meeting. “However, I’m here to not only protect your interest, to make sure this memorial is built to honor you and give you the respect you deserve, but also to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not misused.”

The agreement governing the release of public funds was approved 3-2 with Gambrill and Cupid in opposition.

Among other things, Gambrill expressed concern over a plan to hire a Florida-based fund-raising firm called Carter for an estimated $105,000 to develop and execute a fundraising plan.

Bankers defended the use of the firm, saying it was not possible for a handful of part time volunteers with no fund-raising experience to raise millions of dollars in a timely fashion.

“We didn’t have the expertise, we didn’t have the staff, and we didn’t have the infrastructure to do it properly,” he said.

Bankers and other volunteers said they were keen to get the project completed as soon as possible, especially for older veterans to enjoy.

Harry Kone, a 99-year-old retired Marine who served in World War II, was among the earliest small donors to the project. He spoke in support of the memorial at the commission meeting and the importance of inspiring future generations.

“We do talk a little bit about generations and what one generation can do for the next generation,” Kone said. “How can we keep America strong and wonderful.”

The centerpiece of the memorial designed by Croft and Associates is a 125-foot obelisk with a star-shaped base rising to a point. The design calls for engraved granite walls on either side dedicated to the different branches of the military, as well as a space engraved with personal photos, letters and memorabilia from individual veterans.

The memorial will be located next to the county aquatic center and civic center on Fairground Street in Marietta.

Donna Rowe, a Vietnam veteran and foundation board member, said she has visited veterans monuments across the country and the one planned for Cobb is special.

“I think our monument is going to be very unique and very distinctive,” she said, adding that it also honors military families, prisoners or war and those missing in action. “I think ours is going to be — bar none — the best in Georgia.”