Honoring The Fallen

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Payson's Veterans War Memorial is as fine as any other in all the world, Dist. 4 state representative Jake Flake told the more than 700 people who gathered Monday at Green Valley Park for the memorial's dedication.

Flake said he received offers to speak at other Memorial Day ceremonies, but there was no other place he wanted to be than Payson, "at this sacred, solemn spot."

Local veterans groups, businesses and community organizations raised $53,000 to build the memorial near the Green Valley Park amphitheater.

The memorial features bronze plaques that honor America's fallen veterans and name the Arizona servicemen who have died in the line of duty. Three flags the American flag, the Arizona flag and the MIA/POW flag fly over the center of the monument.

"We worked so hard," said Lee Pretsch, Veterans Memorial Committee member. "Every bit of it was worth it though. The help we got from the community was tremendous. Payson is a town that cares."

The Town of Payson and the Tonto Apache Tribe each contributed $9,000 to the project, which is just shy of completion. When the work is finished, the memorial also will feature a POW-MIA podium and five pillars, each of which will be dedicated to one of the United States' five military services the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

Rep. Flake stood in as the event's keynote speaker for Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who canceled last week so he could accompany President Bush to a Memorial Day ceremony in Mesa Monday.

Flake said the names of many of his relatives are etched on the memorial, and that makes him proud.

Payson Mayor Ray Schum said he was proud, too, and said the ceremony was perfect.

"I thought it was just wonderful," he said. "We had such a supportive audience. What a fine tribute to our town and veterans. We can all take great pride in this."

The ceremony was punctuated by a seven-plane fly-over, music from a lone bagpipe player, and a tribute to Marion Andrew Deal, a highly decorated Payson war veteran who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

James Metelak, a 13-year-old boy who came from Camp Pendelton, Calif. to see the dedication, and his Payson relatives, said the war memorial was impressive.

"I wouldn't expect a war memorial in such a small town," he said. "Most bigger towns don't even have one. This one is really nice."

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