The city of Cumming’s Veterans War Memorial is turning 25 this year, and local veterans are helping with a facelift to improve aging issues, though it will have to be removed for work to begin.
This week, the Cumming City Council heard an update from Gary Ely, with the Forsyth County Patriots Alliance, on renovations that need to happen at the memorial in downtown Cumming. Ely said several veterans groups are working together to fix some issues on the monument.
“We’ve got an engineer on our team, now,” Ely said. “It is becoming unsafe; the tiles are becoming loose and slippery. The water that has been flowing from the backside underneath the monument is tearing it apart – a lot of water damage.”
Ely said the work would involve removing the monument, “the entire thing, not just the top of it,” to deal with what he called an “underground river.” He said moving the monument will allow the ground to be stabilized, along with other work.
“We will salvage the individual war monument toppers and [are] going to replace them with solid granite pedestals as opposed to tiles,” he said.
The monument was built by local sculptor and artist Gregory Johnson and was dedicated in May 1992, with pedestals representing each war since the Civil War that bear the name of Forsyth County residents who fought and died. The monument was built using donations from the community.
Each year, the monument plays host to the city’s Memorial Day and Veterans Day programs, though Ely said the wet ground has caused issues for some veterans.
“We had one of our veterans down there for Memorial Day in a brand new, state-of-the-art electric [wheelchair],” Ely said. “We took him down in the grass … and he got stuck. It took six of us to pick up the chair and get him.”
Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt said accessibility was overlooked when the monument was built. He was in office at the time.
“When we built it 25 years ago … we didn’t think about the wheelchair-accessible and all the handicap areas,” he said. “As our veterans get older, and some of them in wheelchairs, we need all that.”
The updated monument will include veterans not currently honored.
“That memorial was put up … about the time the Gulf War was taking shape,” Gravitt said. “I know that [the veterans groups] have talked about maybe an Iraqi monument or Afghanistan or some of the other places our country has lost our soldiers. One of the things that is not represented on there … is the Coast Guard, so we want to work on getting everybody represented in the new monument.”
One possible addition to the site, Ely said, is a Huey helicopter on a pedestal. The monument will also be made easier for visitors to read.
Gravitt said the city has turned over the project to the veterans organizations, which will oversee the project and collect donations.
Ely said there has been more than $4,800 donated for the project, and other events and opportunities to donate will be held in the future. The project has been budgeted at $1.5 million.
No action was taken at the meeting, and a timeline for the project was not given. Recommendations made by the veterans groups will need to be approved by the City Council.