Veteran Marty Faulkner said he has been getting phone calls and texts about the appearance of both the large and the small battle guns as well as the large monuments that were damaged by a car last year. People tend to associate Faulkner with the park because it was he who brought the helicopter in. "When I got back from Iraq, I saw the empty concrete slab still sitting there. I think it was sitting empty for about 20 years. I decided I wanted to do something about that and found the helicopter. Originally, the guy wanted $90,000 but I negotiated him down to $500," said Faulkner.
Faulkner explained Veterans' Park is a little different from the other city parks. It does not really have anyone over it. No one is in charge or responsible for its upkeep, although, the American Legion, the city and VFW do some things with it. Most of the work in the park is done by volunteers, but there is no real organization or entity responsible for maintenance, beautifiacation, care of the pieces in the park.
"Those pieces reflect past wars, and they are an honor to our veterans and our nation. They are almost impossible to replace," said Faulkner. "It's important for us to maintain them. My hope is that the city will ultimately take control of the park. They are more equipped to make sure these things get done in the future."
Faulkner spoke with Mayor Dowling Watford, who is also a veteran, and told him what he was hearing. Watford told him the city had done an assessment of the entire park system including Veterans' Park. The two decided it would be a good idea to put together a committee to work on it. After assembling the committee, Faulkner was asked to be the coordinator and accepted.
Besides the mayor and Faulkner, Gary Ritter, city administrator; Police Chief Donald Hagan; Maynard; veteran David Allen, city public works director; Marvin Roberts, city public works foreman; Cpl. Jack Nash, who is the public information officer for the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office and is also a veteran; veteran Charlie Norris and veteran Larry Richardson, American Legion adjunct are also on the committee.
The committee has had one meeting and formed their task and their mission. "We've all agreed the two battle guns should be the first things they work on. They are deteriorating quickly and need a lot of work. The pedestals also need attention."
Tammy Cook-Weedon is the architect who has been working on the conceptual plans for the park and met with the committee Wednesday to hear their ideas and share the ideas she has come up with.
Faulkner said each committee member has been tasked with a job to help get the refurbishing of the guns started. Maynard and Faulkner will be lining up volunteers, one of whom is BMJ Towing and Total Roadside Services. They will haul the guns to the city barn where they will be sand blasted and then painted before being transported back to the park. They will be moved in the next few weeks if all goes as planned.
After the guns are refurbished, they may not go in the exact same spot. They might, but they might not. "We are looking toward what the park shoould look like in the future," said Faulkner.
The committee is looking for donations to get the project down. Faulkner said they hope to have volunteers for as much as possible, but even the paint is very costly. All donations can be brought to/sent to the American Legion under the care of Cdr. Carl Gaiser. They are located at 501 S.E. Second Street. 863-763-5309 They are there from 10-7 Monday through Saturday. Just tell them the donation is for the Veterans' Park Battle Guns project.