Among six stout brick columns, a single figure stood looking at a name.
Frank Vaughn had stood in that exact place many times before. He was a regular visitor at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Proctor Memorial Park. His eyes found the name he came looking for — Charles Sanders, a former classmate in high school.
Bowing his head and reaching out his hand, he held it there silently for a few moments, his own tribute to a friend and fellow soldier.
“A lot of people take for granted the freedoms we have, and they forget too easily what that price is,” Vaughn said. “A lot of men and women have died to found this country and keep it safe and free. They should be honored.”
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At Johnson County’s own memorial park, visitors can reflect on those who have made sacrifices both large and small by serving their country. Proctor Park has monuments to military veterans, police, firefighters and emergency responders, set among a playground, walking trails and fishing pond.
As the park has evolved during the 10 years since it was conceived, supporters have seen the impact it has made. Not only is it an opportunity to show respect for veterans and those who serve the community, but truly a way to spotlight the sacrifice those men and women have made.
“In every respect, it is a tribute to Joe Proctor and his bravery and his willingness to serve. But it is much, much more than that,” said Maribeth Alspach, clerk-treasurer for New Whiteland and one of the park’s champions. “It isn’t about one sacrifice. It’s about the blessing that we have that is freedom, and the cost through the ages of that right.”
A heroic story
Proctor Park grew out of the heroic actions and tragic death of Sgt. Joseph E. Proctor, a Whiteland Community High School graduate and former New Whiteland resident.He was serving in Iraq on May 3, 2006, when a dump truck loaded with 350 pounds of explosives breached the wall of his compound. The truck was headed toward the barracks where dozens of soldiers were sleeping. Proctor faced down the truck, firing his weapon into the cab and killing the driver. The truck never reached the barracks, but the explosives it carried detonated, killing Proctor in the process.
New Whiteland and Johnson County mourned his death. Members of the New Whiteland Town Council worked with Proctor’s family on a fitting recognition. After much discussion, it was decided to turn an 11-acre parcel of land off of Tracy Road, which had been donated by a subdivision developer, into a park.
The site had a pond and ample space for a playground, benches and monuments. Two years to the day after Proctor’s death, the park was officially dedicated.
Vaughn, who spent 39 years in the military, was a charter member of the town’s Proctor Park committee. When the committee was making plans for what the park would become, the idea emerged to expand the scope of its meaning.
Among the difficult conversations that materialized in the aftermath of the tragedy was the desire to honor not only Proctor, but all of the men and women who had served their country.
“All who served should be honored in some way, and not forgotten. This is a place and a means to come and remember, honor them, and enjoy it for family,” Vaughn said. “We wanted to make it a place where they could have fellowship with each other, and have fun, but maybe get a better understanding or have reflection of what the cost of freedom is. It’s right in front of them if they look at it.”
g sacrificeWhen the park was dedicated, the main feature was the Walk of Freedom. Located near the entrance of the park, it featured a towering flagpole with the American flag flanked by Indiana and Prisoner of War flags.
The flags of the five armed forces branches ring the outside of the brick-lined memorial. Engraved pavers featuring the names of men and women who have served, or are currently serving, make up the bulk of the monument.
Since the initial park dedication, supporters have added noble tributes to other causes as well. The black granite Veterans of Foreign Wars monument was dedicated by VFW Post 6978 and is inscribed with the words, “For those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
In the back of the park, organizers have created the most recent honorarium. The Pathway of Honor includes brick pavers focused on police officers, firefighters and emergency responders who protect the communities we live in.
“It started as a community that had come together to try and comfort the family of a fallen soldier. But it became so much more,” Alspach said.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial carries the names of all 1,533 Indiana who died in the Vietnam War. It is one of the only monuments of its kind in Indiana, with all of the names of Indiana residents killed in the war engraved on it.
“Sadly, there were no welcome homes from that war. Its veterans just came home and resumed their prior commitments and responsibilities. No fanfare, no gratitude; in fact, in some cases they were ridiculed for having served,” said Donna Allman, a Whiteland resident.
Allman was 19 years old when her husband, Larry Glover, was killed in Vietnam. The two had started dating as students at Whiteland Community High School and were just starting their lives together when Glover was shipped out to fight in the war. A member of the U.S. Army, Glover was killed on Oct. 7, 1969, in the Binh Dinh province of Vietnam.
Allman has since remarried. Her second husband, John Allman, also served in Vietnam. When park officials announced plans for the Vietnam memorial, Donna Allman and her husband John were immediately inspired to help fund the project.
“We were absolutely supportive of something being done to honor those who served and were never appreciated or acknowledged for their sacrifices in that war,” Donna Allman said. “There was no Glover Park. Larry’s only acknowledgment was a book donated to the Whiteland Community High School library in his memory.”
Creating such an overdue and emotional symbol required a design that met very stringent requirements. Organizers wanted it to be accessible, so people could maneuver a wheelchair or walker to find a particular name.
Designers agreed on a set of six brick columns, with each brick bearing the name of a soldier who died in Vietnam. The limestone caps on the pillars are engraved with words pulled from the oaths of different branches of the military: Valor, Honor, Duty, Loyalty, Sacrifice, Courage, for example.
The monument had to be noble without being overbearing, said Mark Trina, who helped design it.
“Seeing people come out there, seeing them find a name on something you built, you can’t explain it,” Trina said.
Trina, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who served in the Gulf War, works at building material company General Shale. He also started his own sandblasting company for engraving called Blast Masters.
Alspach, who had known Trina from previous projects, suggested adding a memorial called the Hoosier Hero Wall; Trina wanted to help create it. The result was a stretch of limestone panels engraved with the names of every Indiana soldier who has been killed in service since Sept. 11, 2001.
While the cause was a good one, it was really Alspach’s passion that influenced his work, Trina said.
“(Maribeth) is the type of selfless person who wants to do as much as she can for her country and the veterans. It made me want to do the same thing,” he said.
In its 10-year existence, the park has become a place of catharsis and healing. Every day, individuals and families come to the park for personal reflection. When the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 2014, Alspach called any Vietnam veterans to come forward in front of the monument.“Every one of those bikers there came through and hugged those men, and shook their hands,” Alspach said. “We had men in tears saying no one had ever thanked them before.”
But the park also is a place of celebration, Alspach said. It has been the site of marriage proposals, family reunions, fishing derbies, graduation parties and one wedding.
Those celebrations honor the men and women who serve to protect the quality the life we know and enjoy, Alspach said. She is proud that Proctor Park has become an important part of the fabric of the Johnson County community.
Surrounded by the natural beauty of the park, she hopes visitors enjoy their experience, but also take a moment to reflect on the meaning behind it.
“Each of those names equates to an empty chair at someone’s table, a missing face in the family photo, a much loved voice that has been silenced,” Alspach said. “This is how we honor these heroes, by remembering and sharing their legacy with all those that follow behind.”
Here is a look at the timeline for Proctor Park:
May 3, 2006: Sgt. Joseph E. Proctor, a New Whiteland native, is killed in combat while serving in Iraq.
Early May 2007: New Whiteland town officials announce that the existing Tot Park, where Proctor used to play as a child, will be renamed in his honor.
Late May 2007: Officials decide that instead of renaming an existing park, they will use an 11-acre tract of land donated to the town to develop a new park. It will be named for Proctor, but will serve to honor all county veterans.
July 2007: Plans for the park take shape. Developing the land will cost $182,150 and will feature a walking track, picnic tables and swing set. A memorial garden, Walk of Honor and rock fountain will be set up at the entrance.
May 3, 2008: Proctor Memorial Park is dedicated in a special community ceremony.
March 2009: The Veterans of Foreign Wars Monument is erected at the entrance of the park.
June 23, 2012: Park officials and supporters dedicate the Hoosier Hero Wall, a limestone monument inscribed with the names of every Indiana soldier who has died since Sept. 11, 2001.
Sept. 27, 2014: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a brick sculpture featuring all 1,533 names of Indiana soldiers killed in the Vietnam War, is dedicated following a special Welcome Home Ride for Vietnam veterans.
Proctor Memorial Park
Where: 499 Tracy Road, New Whiteland
Dedicated: May 3, 2008
Size: 11 acres
Amenities: Playground, shelterhouse, walking trail, pond
Walk of Freedom: A terrace of brick pavers engraved with the names of people who have served or are currently serving in the armed forces. Flagpoles with the flags of the different military branches arch around the outside of the terrace, with the American, Indiana and Prisoner of War flags at the center.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Monument: The simple black granite monument honors all service members. The piece was donated by New Whiteland Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6978.
Hoosier Hero Wall: The limestone monument features more than 200 names of Indiana soldiers who have been killed since Sept. 11, 2001.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Six brick columns are engraved with the names of all 1,533 Indiana residents who died in the Vietnam War. The limestone caps on five of the pillars are etched with words taken from the oaths of the different military branches, such as Valor, Honor and Duty.
Pathway of Honor: A walkway of pavers honoring police, firefighters and emergency responders in the community.