BEDFORD – Veterans Grove, a collection of memorials and brick walkways to honor Bedford County veterans, is located in front of the Bedford County Post Office at Penn and Juliana streets.
The project was spearheaded by Dennis Tice, director of the county visitors bureau, but it happened more by accident, he said.
Through his county advocacy work, Tice worked to produce a video about the World War II monument in Centerville.
Part of the project was to ask veterans to provide first-hand information and testimonials about their service.
Although in his experience veterans have never spoken much about the war, he said that when interviews began in 2010, these soldiers, then in their 80s, were ready to talk.
“I was surprised,” he said. “I thought I knew a lot about WWII, but the things they were telling me, I had never heard of before.”
The interviews were fascinating and were turned into a two-hour documentary, “Bedford County Veterans of World War II.”
Tice wasn’t the only one who thought the interviews were compelling.
The film hit the big screen at the Pitt Theater and became one of the hall’s top box office films – second only to “Titanic.”
The film made $50,000 at the box office and DVD sales and the idea to create a monument was born.
“We thought it was embarrassing that there were no World War II monuments in the county,” said Tice.
With an idea in mind, a group of six people formed The League of Pretty Good Guys who set out to create the monument.
The finished piece, a bronze statue sculpted by Manns Choice artist Wayne Hyde, was unveiled in September 2014 and features the face of an Everett soldier killed in action, Medal of Honor recipient Ellis Weicht. It also includes over 100 fingerprints of living Bedford County WWII veterans that were placed in the clay mold and are now permanently encased in bronze.
This monument was a colossal undertaking as the project grew to include a granite pedestal engraved with the names of 170 Bedford County veterans who were lost in the war. The pedestal is surrounded by The Honor Walk, which includes approximately 750 bricks with the names and military service of World War II veterans.
Brian Jefferies said he was asked by Tice to help design the World War II monument and to help raise the funds needed to build it.
“Dennis decided that Bedford County could do a better job of recognizing our veterans,” he said.
Allen Harr also became involved with the group through fundraising efforts for the monument.
“I believed that downtown investment was something I wanted to be a part of, too, and Dennis’ vision of making this area a dedicated veterans area is how we came to Veterans Grove,” Harr said.
A monument to honor Korean War soldiers was added in 2016, and one to recognize the Vietnam War added in 2020. While the Korean War monument is a black granite obelisk, the Vietnam statue features Everett graduate Robert Hartsock, who died in action in February 1969. Also sculpted by Hyde, the monument shows Hartsock, a dog handler, and his dog, Duke.
Without Tice, Jeffries said, the group and the monuments would not have been possible.
“Dennis is the man with the determination and the vision to make Veterans Grove a reality,” he said. “I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved over the past 10 years, but Dennis deserves most of the credit.”
Kellie Goodman-Shaffer, CEO and President of the Bedford County Chamber of Commerce and member of the League of Pretty Good Guys, can see visitors strolling through Veterans Grove from her office window.
“I see dozens of people a day stopping to look at the memorials,” she says. “It was a big project”
The tice can also often be found in Veterans Grove, as work continues to spruce up the place.
“When creating Veterans Grove, he thought about what would remain for future generations to remember,” she said of Tice.
Jefferies’ office also overlooks the grove, which he says is a “nice addition to Bedford.”
“One of the things I like the most about the grove is that no public money has gone into the monuments,” he said, noting that 100% of the funds used to create the public space came from donations.
Don Rowlett, also a League member, retired in 2016 and was asked by Tice to help research Bedford Countians killed in action during the Korean War.
“This was a project that involved several months of research, traversing over four years of two local newspapers, and revealed several more KIAs to add to the memorial,” said Rowlett.
He said Tice was strongly motivated to honor all of Bedford’s veterans and the sacrifices made for the country.
“Dennis’s tireless involvement with World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials spanned years, if not decades,” he said.
Once the monuments were erected, Tice and the rest of the League thought of linking all the monuments together with the addition of a veterans march, which is currently in the design phase.
“We were so surprised to see how much people are interested in it,” said Rowlett.
The walk will be a historical timeline that begins in 1775 on Juliana Street and ends in 2020 in front of the post office.
People can also buy bricks to honor family members and ancestors who served in any war.
“We have several Revolutionary Wars, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I”, said Rowlett.
Veterans Grove exists not only because of the efforts of Tice and the League, but also because it is supported by local residents.
“The only way we’ve been able to do all of this is with the support of the citizens of Bedford County,” said Tice.
“They made it happen, all we did was guide it and help it, but it was the citizens of the county who stepped up to help fund it,” he said.
“It’s getting a little nerve-wracking to worry about how much funding to pull out of the next phase of the project,” Harr said. “But it seems the people of Bedford County have the same dedication to Bedford County veterans” like Tice.
“They are always there to support the construction phases of Veterans Grove”, he said.