Group wants to improve war memorial at Ogden cemetery

Jul 3 2011 - 10:23pm

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OGDEN -- The Weber County Heritage Foundation wants to help former Ogden Mayor Frank Francis keep a promise he made in 1921. The promise is still in place but has grown a bit worn, bent and crumbly over the decades.

On Nov. 11, 1921, Mayor Francis accepted the dedication of two large monuments, bronze plaques on concrete stands, in Ogden City Cemetery, commemorating the 52 Weber County soldiers killed in World War I.

Ogden, he said, promised to "help keep before the people the memories of the dead, and to recognize that the greatest thing a man can do is to lay down his life for others."

In addition to the plaques, 52 now-large trees were planted along both sides of Gold Star Drive, which is where Madison Avenue extends into the cemetery.

A small bronze plaque was embedded beneath each tree. bearing the name of the soldier for whom the tree was planted.

Gold Star Drive is named for the gold stars on small flags that parents of soldiers killed in the war displayed in their homes, a practice continued in current wars. Parents with soldiers serving in the wars display a flag with a blue star.

Three years after World War I ended Nov. 11, 1918, the entire nation was involved in memorial services. In Washington D.C., the tomb of the unknown soldiers was dedicated.

Because World War I was, originally, called the "War to End All Wars," and because it was the first worldwide war, a lifetime memorial to Weber County's dead seemed fitting.

Time has been hard on the memorials. The two large plaques are still there, but the concrete stands that hold them are crumbling and cracking. Two cannons that pictures from 1921 show sitting behind the plaques are no longer there.

Worse, while most of the 52 trees are still there, spreading majestically over the drive, many of the small plaques are not. Of 52 originals, more than 40 are bent, broken, twisted or missing.

Bob Geier, director of the Golden Hours Center and a member of the Weber Heritage Foundation, said the Foundation took on the project because this year is the 90th anniversary of the original dedication.

The re-dedication is planned for Veterans Day, Nov. 11. "That would make the date 11-11-11," he said.

The Armistice that ended World War I's fighting went into effect at 11 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918. For years veterans of that war talked about "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month," and this year will add yet another "11" to the list.

Geier said the plans are to replace the concrete that holds the large plaques with new granite mounts. American Monument is donating the granite and Parson's Construction is donating concrete for the pads on which the monuments will stand.

Geier said all 52 of the individual plaques will either be restored or, more commonly, replaced. While a few are intact, some appear to have been sliced by lawn- mowing machines or snowplows over the years, and some have disappeared.

Another thing Geier would also love to restore are the two cannons that were mounted at the entrance to the cemetery. News photos taken Nov. 21, 1921, show them set in concrete right behind the memorial tablets.

Geier said nobody has any idea where the cannons went. An Ogden resident who led Boy Scouts decorating graves in the 1950s remembers them, but a retired cemetery worker who was hired in 1978 told Geier they were gone when she started work.

Ben Noid, a member of the Golden Hours Center's veterans group, said that as far s he can tell, the cannons were taken "about 40 years ago by someone, unknown. The cemetery people were unable to find a record of who took them, or when. They were taken up to Idaho somewhere to be repaired."

At least, that's the story.

It is still possible to see where they stood. The concrete pads behind the bronze plaques have filled-in holes, two long ones for the wheels and a smaller one behind, where the tongue of the cannon's carriage was set.

He assumes the cannons' wooden wheels had deteriorated and needed work. Whatever happened, they never came back.

Tax deductible donations for the work can be sent to Weber County Heritage Foundation, 2580 Jefferson Ave., Ogden, 84401.

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