A blustery, frigid wind could not discourage John Mallo from telling the origin story of the Eden Prairie Veterans Memorial.
Mallo was in Purgatory Creek Park on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, to give an impromptu tour of the memorial that he shepherded from idea to reality. The memorial honoring military veterans like Mallo himself was dedicated in 2008. It is the site of the city’s annual Memorial Day ceremonies.
“I had this feeling that we needed something for veterans in Eden Prairie,” said Mallo, noting the city does not have a VFW or American Legion.
The longtime Eden Prairie resident points to the photos of young faces lined one after the other on the memorial’s Honor Wall. Each veteran from Eden Prairie killed in military action has a short biography and accompanying photo.
“After I got this memorial, I wanted something more than a name on a rock,” he recalled. “And I wanted a photo (of each veteran) because at least you can see the person.”
There are the names of 19 service members on the wall, from Private John W. McClay, who died in the Civil War, to Air Force Major Randell D. Voas, who died in 2012, near Kandahar, Afghanistan, when the CV-22 he was piloting crashed.
“My wife (Cheryl Larson) is a genealogist,” he said. “She was able to find this photo (of McClay) out of Oregon. She chased it down that far.”
Most of the older veterans’ names were compiled by Ernie Shuldhiess, a local historian and Vietnam veteran who died in 2007.
For Mallo, the Honor Wall is why he began his quest for a memorial in Eden Prairie. (There is also a Veterans Wall, which honors those who have served in the military.)
“I want people to know that there is a cost of war,” he said. “And every time we have a war, people die, and that has a big impact on the families. I felt very strong about those veterans who have died.”
Though the rest of the memorial — with its flags (all six U.S. military services are represented) and statues and quotes and bucolic setting overlooking Purgatory Creek — is impressive, Mallo calls it “frosting on the cake.”
“They don’t have as much meaning to me as the photos of those veterans, the people who died,” Mallo said. “That’s just me. I wanted that to be the focal point, and I think it is.”
How it started
Mallo brought his idea for a memorial to the Eden Prairie City Council. His idea was to place a “nice stone” somewhere in town with the names of the city’s fallen veterans.
The possibility gained traction with the council and the community. He said the city expanded the memorial’s scope with the hiring of an architect to design it.
“In other words, it was going to be something different than I had thought,” he said. “I was thinking little. They said, ‘You guys will be the fundraisers,’ which is really nice of them, but that was the right way to do it.”
Mallo was the original chair of the Veterans Memorial Committee, which helped raise the money to fund the work on the memorial and come up with its design and commission the work. (The park is owned by the city and is the memorial’s custodian.)
“We had people from all services,” Mallo said of the 22-person committee. “We had one woman whose father had been a Merchant Marine in the war. The chairman right now is in the Coast Guard.”
Quotations from notable people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Norman Schwarzkopf adorn the walls. Mallo said much effort and debate went into picking which ones to use.
“I wanted it related to service or veterans,” he said. “And that theme worked out. If you look, these all relate to service and not to war.”
The prominent part of the memorial is divided by two bronze features designed by Neil Brodin of Brodin Studios: Combat Rescue and World Peace.
Combat Rescue depicts a soldier (either serving in the Marines or the Army) carrying a pilot (either in the Air Force or Navy). While describing it, Mallo mentions the phrase, “All gave some, some gave all,” which refers to U.S. military members wounded or killed in action.
“This guy gave some because he is alive,” Mallo said of the soldier. “(The pilot) might be alive or dead. We don’t know, so he gave all.”
A statue of a female nurse with her hand on the world is featured in World Peace. On the ground, it states: Imagine World Peace.
“The architect came up with the idea of having a peace memorial with this, which is very interesting because I don’t think people even know that,” he said.
Mallo said his idea for a memorial sprouted during the Iraq War. He was upset that people opposed to the war such as himself were painted by President George W. Bush as unpatriotic.
“I wanted to show that a liberal can be patriotic,” he said. “I care about America as much as anyone.”