J.D. Allen, former Sheridan village president; Charles Bergeron, chairman of fundraising for the Sheridan Veterans Memorial; and Jeannine Blazing, member of the Sheridan Veterans Memorial Committee, (from left) show a plaque at the memorial behind the village hall and police station. The Sheridan Veterans Memorial was started in 2005 by a group of volunteers led by Allen. Bergeron has raised funds for the memorial by raffling off weapons used by U.S. military branches.
J.D. Allen, former Sheridan village president; Charles Bergeron, chairman of fundraising for the Sheridan Veterans Memorial; and Jeannine Blazing, member of the Sheridan Veterans Memorial Committee, (from left) show a plaque at the memorial behind the village hall and police station. The Sheridan Veterans Memorial was started in 2005 by a group of volunteers led by Allen. Bergeron has raised funds for the memorial by raffling off weapons used by U.S. military branches.
SHERIDAN, Ill. — The Sheridan Veterans Memorial is many things to many people. For James D. “J.D.” Allen, it’s a way to honor fellow members of the Greatest Generation.

For people such as Kevin Hansel and Jeannine Vincenti Blazing, it’s a way to honor family members who have served their country.

The memorial honors American military veterans and service members, with plaques honoring veterans of World War I through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The memorial occupies most of a city block — the rest of the block contains the Sheridan Village Hall and the Sheridan Police Department.

With its professional landscaping and careful design showcasing the bronze plaques and flags representing the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy flanking the American flag, the memorial is a focal point for the heart of the village.

But there is one thing the Sheridan Veterans Memorial is not.

“It’s not a park,” said Chuck Bergeron, Sheridan police chief. “I fight that word. A park is a place for public recreation. A memorial is a place for remembering, for honoring, for respecting and thanking.”

All of those things — remembering, honoring, respecting and thanking — were what former village president Allen had in mind when he was approached in 2005 about creating a memorial for the town’s and the area’s military veterans.

Creating a veterans’ memorial was a personal mission for Allen and for Bergeron.

“Oh, it was terrible,” Allen said.

The disappointment he felt in August 1944 upon being told he couldn’t enlist in the Army because he was underweight still is evident in his voice.

“One hundred and two pounds was the reason. One hundred and four pounds, you could get in,” he said.

Like fellow members of the Greatest Generation, Allen was ready to do his part for his country as soon as he turned 18 in 1944. He traveled to Chicago for his military physical only to be told he couldn’t enlist.

“In World War II, 95 percent of the population was patriotic and wanted to do their part,” he said. “Everybody did their part.”

Disappointed, Allen moved to Chicago and took a job in a factory that contributed to the war effort. But he remained determined to pay tribute to those who served in the military.

Chuck Bergeron’s father, Harvey, was one of those.

“My dad was my big inspiration,” Bergeron said.

Harvey Bergeron was a combat Marine in the Pacific combat theater in World War II who was wounded twice.

His son served in the U.S. Army Reserves as a military police officer. When Allen decided to start work on the park, he knew who he wanted on his committee.

“I got volunteered for the fundraising,” Bergeron said. “It was my honor to be chosen to do that.”

The town had a monument — a small stone with an engraved eagle that reads, “In memory of those who served in defense of their country” — located in back of the village hall, as well as a flagpole and flag.

“All that was out there was a rusty old flagpole and a torn American flag. We couldn’t even lower the flag because everything was so rusted and corroded,” Bergeron said.

Since the memorial would be located on city property, Allen had to get approval from the village board, which he did in 2006. A committee was formed, and design work started.

Even before he was asked about a veterans’ memorial, Allen had an idea of what he wanted.

When Bergeron and his wife took a vacation to Tunica, Miss., the veterans’ memorial there gave the committee some more ideas.

What was needed was funding. After all the usual suspects — dinners, poker runs, golf outings — failed to raise the necessary funds, Bergeron, wearing the hat of a veterans’ memorial committee fundraising chairman, came up with a unique idea to raise money to build a memorial for veterans.

“In 2007, I came up with the idea of raffling off firearms to support our project,” he said.

But he didn’t choose just any firearms.

“We raffle off the exact same firearms that our veterans have used to defend our freedom,” he noted.

The firearms that have been raffled include a civilian version of the M14 rifle used by U.S. combat troops in Vietnam; a pair of World War II 45 caliber pistols with consecutive serial numbers; an Iwo Jima commemorative M1 Grand; a civilian version of the Colt M16, used in Vietnam and still in military use today; and a pair of World War I 45 caliber pistols with consecutive serial numbers.

This year, the committee is selling raffle tickets for two Beretta M9A1 .9 millimeter pistols, the current sidearm of U.S. troops. The drawing for the pistols will take place on Veterans Day.

The raffle follows all federal and state laws, and the weapons transfer is made through a federally-licensed firearms dealer who takes possession of the firearms after the drawing and then prepares the appropriate paperwork for the winner.

The process includes a three-day waiting period and a background check, and the winner must possess a valid FOID card to take possession of the firearms.

“We follow the letter of the law with the raffle,” Bergeron said.

The raffle of the military firearms has proven a successful way to raise money for the memorial. Last year’s raffle raised some $24,000.

It’s money that is being put to use that those who buy the tickets can see. The rusty flagpole is gone, and in its place, state-of-the-art flagpoles are set in place.

Allen sketched a rough drawing of what he had in mind and gave it to a local architect. The result surprised even Allen when he saw the paving bricks laid in 2007.

“We thought it was great. We were very proud of it,” he said.

The design includes the original monument, which is located toward the center of the memorial.

“We didn’t want to lose that or eliminate it,” Allen said.

Bringing the drawing and plans to reality also helped with raising funds to continue. The memorial is a work in progress, and Bergeron said he estimates that about $65,000 has been spent on the memorial so far.

Allen said he expects the final cost of the memorial to come in at around $80,000.

“Once you see progress on it, it motivates you even more. When people see progress, it’s so important for the fundraising aspect because they see where their money is going. It really inspires them to continue to help out,” Bergeron said.

One of the areas that Allen and Bergeron and the members of the committee have been firm about is the source of all the materials, from the flagpoles to the flags to the paving stones, that goes into the memorial.

“Everything is made in America and installed by Americans. That has cost us extra, but how can we put up a memorial that honors Americans that is not made in America and installed by Americans?” Bergeron said.

Throughout the memorial, there are pieces that link it to those who have helped make it a reality.

The black metal bases that hold the memorial bronze plaques were the work of Kevin Hansel of Hansel Custom Technologies, a tool and die company in Sheridan.

Hansel donated his time and labor to design and craft the bases and position them so the plaques can be seen up close and from a distance.

“I was happy to do it. I wanted to make sure they had something that couldn’t be taken, and these are going to be here a long time,” he said.

“This is basically genius. We owe a lot to Kevin because we were not sure how we were going to mount the plaques,” Bergeron said.

“The biggest thing was making sure the plate on the backside was at the right angle and square. When we put them in the ground, we put rebar and cement inside,” Hansel said.

Hansel’s father, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, and his grandfather, an Army veteran of World War I, are memorialized in the commemorative bricks that can be purchased to honor veterans.

Hansel’s concern about theft or vandalism isn’t an exaggeration.

Some of the paving bricks in one of the two adjoining circles of the monument recently had to be replaced after a snowmobile driver drove through the middle of the memorial, destroying some of the paving bricks. A tall black iron fence not only provides security for the memorial, but adds to the formal setting.

The bricks feature the name of the veteran, their service branch and the war in which they fought.

Blazing found the phrase, “Salute the Living, Honor the Fallen,” that decorates the plaque leading into the memorial. The drawing, a service member kneeling at a helmet-adorned cross, was sketched by a former member of the committee.

Even though the wording above the symbol reads “Sheridan Veterans Memorial,” Allen, Bergeron and Blazing emphasize that the memorial is to honor all military veterans.

“Everything we have is due to our veterans. We fight to protect our interests and our biggest interest is our freedom and people just take that for granted. That’s why we’re doing this,” Bergeron said.

For more information on the Sheridan Veterans Memorial and the gun raffle, contact Bergeron at (815) 496-2186. More information also can be found at www.sheridan-il.us/Veteran_s_Memorial.html.