VFW battle seen brewing over Merle Hay monument
BY LISA LAVIA RYAN • REGISTER CORRESPONDENT •
A monument created to honor the first Iowan to die in World War I has become the focal point of another battle - this one between two Veterans of Foreign Wars posts over what will become of a boulder, plaque and flagpole recognizing Merle Hay.Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 738, on the east side of Des Moines, created the 16-ton memorial in 1923 and installed it less than a mile northeast of where Merle Hay Mall eventually would be built.
The memorial has been moved four times because of construction-related issues; it currently sits along the east side of the street at about 4345 Merle Hay Road in Des Moines, in front of the El Dorado Mexican Restaurant.
Members of Post 738 recently announced plans to move the memorial across the street to the Merle Hay Cemetery, 4400 Merle Hay Road in Urbandale, to provide better security for the display, among other reasons.
The Rev. Stuart Juarez of Des Moines, district VFW post chaplain, said the group immediately encountered resistance from a member of VFW Post 9668
in Johnston, the post closest to the memorial.
"That post doesn't have anything to do with the maintenance of the memorial, as Post 738 has for the past 80 or so years," Juarez, who serves as unofficial spokesman for Post 738, said during a telephone interview. "The problem is one individual who is upset because he wasn't consulted about where to move the memorial."
Juarez identified that individual as Roy Mann of Urbandale. Mann did not return calls seeking his comments for this article.
Mann phoned the Register last month to talk about the move. Mann, a Korean War veteran and member of Post 9668, told a reporter at that time that members of his post were upset because they had been told the memorial would not be moved again, and because it could not be seen from the road if it was moved to the cemetery.
Juarez said Post 738 members are no longer sure that money for the move will come through. He said Post 738 leaders visited about the proposed move with officials from Camp Dodge in Johnston and that post members had been told that "as long as there was no negative publicity, they would pay for the move."
"Even though Camp Dodge was behind us initially, now that a certain individual has complained and has gone to the media, we're not sure if Camp Dodge will want anything to do with us anymore," Juarez said. "We're waiting to see."
Juarez said Post 738 had planned to move the memorial as part of a Veterans Day-weekend celebration, but the move was delayed not only because of uncertainly over money but because members visited the Polk County attorney's office to seek a cease-and-desist order against Mann. He said the members have not yet learned a decision.
"We had plans for a parade to cross the street with the Boy Scouts, a nice ceremony at the cemetery, and all kinds of things," Juarez said. "Now, with the delays, it looks like it may happen around Memorial Day rather than Veterans Day."
Juarez said Post 738 did not intend to upset anyone.
"It just makes sense; right now, the memorial sits behind a bus stop and no one can see it; there's no accessibility and no parking, so you can't get to it," Juarez said. "In the cemetery, there will be parking and accessibility and we're planning to put a bench there so people can sit and pay their respects. And it can be a permanent location - no more moves, no matter what happens with streets or businesses or intersections."
Juarez said the memorial's flagpole is an issue in its current location; potential vandalism is a worry as well.
"If the memorial sits in the cemetery, it will be protected by the law. Right now it's not and anything could happen to it," Juarez said. "Also right now we're not allowed to put up a large flagpole over the memorial and the flagpole that's there now is rusted. If we move it we can put up a 40-foot flagpole and fly a 5-foot-by-10-foot flag.
"Now we have to fly a little-bitty flag and there's no room to fly another flag underneath it."
Hugh Myers, general manager of Merle Hay Cemetery, said he wasn't up-to-date on the details of the proposed move. But he said if the move does happen, the boulder will be placed just to the east of the Merle Hay Funeral Home.
"With the weight of the boulder, it's my understanding that the National Guard would use a crane to place it on a truck and it will be moved across the street that way," Myers said. "If it is moved, we would be proud to provide a nice location for it here."
For picture of monument, visit: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071115/NEWS/711150307/1136