Squires OK Veterans Park, Plaza

Bernie Ash, District 23 commissioner and director of the Wilson County Veterans Office, addressed the commissioners and more than three-dozen veterans in the audience before the vote.

I want to talk about the reason for the park and the reason for the museum, Ash said, noting that it will be a three-phase project. The park will honor every veteran in Wilson County. The museum, in my opinion, is probably more important than the park.Ash said the monuments around the fountain in the park will have the names that deserve to be honored, but it does not tell the stories of these names inscribed on them.

He said there are 17,000 students in Wilson County, and that if you ask them who those heroes are, youll probably be disappointed. I have a list of a few real heroes, and once this museum is built, I want to see these students come through and see the stories, the bravery and the valor of their neighbors of people who lived in Wilson County and Tennessee. Real heroes, Ash said.

Ash then relayed stories about veterans from Wilson County who died serving their country or were prisoners of war during World War II and Vietnam.

Still, the vote was not without opposition not of the project but of the use of county funds. Commissioners Clint Thomas of District 13, Frank Bush of District 8 and Nathan Clariday of District 10 all voted against using the funds.

Commissioner Annette Stafford of District 20 asked for clarification from someone about the use of the $600,000.

Emphasizing that she was 100 percent for what he is trying to do and I commend him highly, the chair of the Education Committee said, I just want to make certain that that $600,000 that hes talking about has not been promised to the school system by any means.

She thought at one time there had been talk about giving teachers pay raises from the money.

Ash said some of the money went for pay raises for teachers, as well as bonuses for county employees and to shore up the countys insurance fund.

Thomas said he felt that this vote is not a litmus test for your support of our troops or your patriotism. It is however one simple notion and that notion is of sound fiscal principles.

Weve already committed right at half a million dollars to the project with the property. You can already see our donation in taxpayer dollars to this project. I voted for that and would vote again to do so.

At this point, its simply that the private sector should be engaged in and help finish out this project.

Instead, Thomas said he would like to see the money used for scholarships for children of veterans, care for those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, housing for homeless veterans or transportation for veterans to commissaries or hospitals.

Ash said those things were already being done through the Veterans Office.

Bush agreed with Thomas. He said while he was not a veteran, he was the son of one.

Theres probably not a person here who isnt one step removed from a veteran that we know and love, Bush said. I think there are better things we can do with $600,000. Our budget is not balanced.

What we have to do is find the best way to spend this money. We could buy an annuity for $600,000 and provide ourselves with $10,000 forever to spend on veterans needs in Wilson County, he noted.

Bush added that originally the assumption was that the project was not going to come from taxpayer dollars, but was going to come from the private sector. He said he felt with more concentrated effort of seeking out the funds and materials it could still be paid for with private funds.District 5 Commissioner Jerry McFarland, a retired Army colonel, called for the vote saying, Ive heard comments that we paid whatever thousands for the property for this. I did not hear a comment about all these veterans that paid in blood. I call for the question.

The veterans in the audience rose in applause when the 20-3 vote was cast and the money approved.

Correspondent Amelia Morrison Hipps may be contacted at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com.