Foley is taking on two projects to upgrade and add new amenities to a pair of military memorials in city parks.
In John Foley Park in the heart of downtown, the city council voted to spend $12,000 to spruce up the WWII memorial that was first placed there in 1943 to honor citizens who were deployed as the war was still being fought. In Max Griffin Park, the city is hoping to acquire two artillery pieces in front of the current National Guard Armory and move them to the veterans’ memorial in that park.
On the WWII memorial, the council learned its history after Paul Leonard with the Foley Public Library did extensive research on the memorial and wrote a letter to report his findings.
“Jeanette (Bornholt) asked me to research the World War II monument a few months ago and I found a bit of information on it including a 1949 press photo that we now have the original of here at the library,” Leonard wrote. “As you can guess by the date of the photo, it does predate the 1960s.”
But his next sentence revealed a bit of a forgotten history about the memorial.
“What may be more surprising to everyone is that what you think is the monument actually isn’t,” Leonard wrote. “The monument is the live oak (quercus virgianis) planted immediately next to what everyone thinks is the monument. We were quite surprised.”
Leonard found an article in the Feb. 4, 1943, edition of The Onlooker the Woman’s Club of Foley planted the tree on Feb. 1 “honoring the young men and women of the community who are now or will soon be in the service of our country.”
“The tree was planted by Henry Lyda and a number of the FFA boys,” Leonard wrote. “The article goes on to note, ‘Our prayer is that their purpose [the service men and women’s] may be accomplished in the shortest time possible and that before this tree has gained many inches in growth they will be back home.’”
Fast forward to today and Mayor Ralph Hellmich says the city is planning to upgrade the flagpole and add a circle sidewalk around the stone setting, new benches and even some shade structures.
“Kind of dress it up, clean it up,” Director of Parks and Recreation Jeff Lee said. “It’s gotten a little dated over the years so we want to try to get it back since it’s such a key piece and such a prime location there in town. We certainly want to try to do our best to get it to where it needs to be. It’s one of the key features in that park.”
Lee is leading the effort to get the two guns by working with state National Guard and U.S. Army officials. The National Guard will soon move to the new Super Armory in the Foley Industrial Park on city land and the city will acquire the old armory building directly north of Foley City Hall with an eye toward expanding offices.
“The mayor had actually reached out and expressed some interest in those two pieces that are in front of the armory currently since they are about to relocate to their new building in the next couple of months,” Lee said. “I think he and Mike Thompson had some conversations early on with the National Guard here at the local office and also out of Montgomery and they asked me to kind of pick it up and go through the process to see what it would take to get those pieces.”
Out of that process, Lee hopes to learn more details about how the guns where used, where they were used and other information about them to share with the public.
“We’d like to find out the history of those pieces, where they came from and put a plaque on to explain the history and what they were used for,” Lee said.
Right now, he’s getting the process started by working with those officials to try and get the guns then move them to Max Griffin Park.
“You have to go through the application process and they don’t give you a timeframe on how long that can take to get an answer,” Lee said. “We’re going to put in the mail and see what we can find out.”