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Teen revamps Veterans Memorial Monument in Concord for Eagle Scout project

  • Jessica Phillips wears flags in her hair during the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013.<br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

    Jessica Phillips wears flags in her hair during the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013.

    TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

  • From left: New Hampshire Civil Air Patrol members Tyler Dempsey, William Dio, Michael Zinck, and Jordan Loll prepare before the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on May 27, 2013.<br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

    From left: New Hampshire Civil Air Patrol members Tyler Dempsey, William Dio, Michael Zinck, and Jordan Loll prepare before the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on May 27, 2013.

    TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

  • From left: Jim McConahay, Valery Mitchell, Abe WinnettKnoy, Evan Cote and Sophia Kitchens watch the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013.<br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

    From left: Jim McConahay, Valery Mitchell, Abe WinnettKnoy, Evan Cote and Sophia Kitchens watch the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013.

    TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

  • The Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade took place in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013.<br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

    The Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade took place in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013.

    TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

  • Staff Sgt. Robert Pickard, right, marches with the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013. Pickard served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army.<br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

    Staff Sgt. Robert Pickard, right, marches with the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013. Pickard served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army.

    TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

  • Dean Whiteway, right, Headmaster of the Concord Christian Academy, speaks to teachers, students and parents about the importance of Memorial Day before the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013. "We want to teach our kids about honoring our veterans," Whiteway said. <br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

    Dean Whiteway, right, Headmaster of the Concord Christian Academy, speaks to teachers, students and parents about the importance of Memorial Day before the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013. "We want to teach our kids about honoring our veterans," Whiteway said.

    TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

  • Jessica Phillips wears flags in her hair during the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013.<br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff
  • From left: New Hampshire Civil Air Patrol members Tyler Dempsey, William Dio, Michael Zinck, and Jordan Loll prepare before the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on May 27, 2013.<br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff
  • From left: Jim McConahay, Valery Mitchell, Abe WinnettKnoy, Evan Cote and Sophia Kitchens watch the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013.<br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff
  • The Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade took place in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013.<br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff
  • Staff Sgt. Robert Pickard, right, marches with the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013. Pickard served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army.<br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff
  • Dean Whiteway, right, Headmaster of the Concord Christian Academy, speaks to teachers, students and parents about the importance of Memorial Day before the Concord Veterans Council Memorial Day Parade in downtown Concord on Monday May 27, 2013. "We want to teach our kids about honoring our veterans," Whiteway said. <br/><br/>TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff

As the sheet fell, revealing 10 new 8-inch circular bronze plaques, five on each side for the five branches of the U.S. military, it may have seemed that the Veterans Memorial Monument in downtown Concord was built 60 years ago with James Challender’s Eagle Scout project in mind.

Challender, a 17-year-old junior at Bow High School and member of Boy Scout Troop 90 since 2004, spent more than a year raising thousands of dollars and coordinating volunteer labor to renovate and restore the monument, which honors veterans of Vietnam, Korea and World War II, and which hadn’t been deep-cleaned in decades.

The project was the centerpiece of the city’s Memorial Day festivities yesterday morning, which included a parade, music and a few words from Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

“I’m very inspired to see the work done by James Michael Challender at this war memorial,” Ayotte said. “Because it is an honor to see that it is not just this generation and generations that have gone before us, but there is a new generation of young people who are stepping up to serve our nation and to honor the sacrifices of those who have gone before us.”

Besides designing and installing the plaques, Challender and fellow Scouts

also power-washed the monument and are nearly finished regrouting its crevices; that would have happened Saturday had the weather cooperated, Challender said.

Challender said the idea for the project grew from his personal connection to the armed forces. Both his grandfather and father served in the military, and he hopes after high school to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

“This project is very important to me, because in my family the military is extremely important,” Challender told a crowd of more than a hundred people who gathered for the unveiling and Memorial Day addresses.

The monument, which is owned by the Concord Veterans Council, was constructed in 1953 and updated in the 1980s, said council head Paul Lloyd, who presided over yesterday’s ceremony.

Until this year, the structure saw decades of wear and tear. Wads of gum, cigarette butts and dark stains on its granite surface are visible in pictures Challender took before the restoration, which were on display during the unveiling ceremony.

“It was filthy,” his grandfather, James J. Challender, said.

James J. Challender praised his grandson’s ambition in undertaking the roughly $3,000 project, and his dedication in seeing it completed.

“It’s heartwarming and just gives me faith in the young people of America today,” he said. “I know some of the young people that (James) works with in his Scout troop and who he goes to Bow High School with, and they’re all outstanding people. It just makes me feel good to know when I leave this earth it will be in good hands.”

The project wasn’t without a few stumbling blocks, though, said Challender’s father, James P. Challender. His son’s first challenge, he said, was convincing the Scout council that he would be able to raise enough money to finish the project. Most Eagle projects range from about $500 to $800, he said.

After obtaining council approval last spring, Challender started to gather funds for the plaques and other necessary materials. He sold concessions at last year’s Memorial Day parade, did yard work over the summer and asked local veterans organizations for whatever contributions they could manage.

Challender also began to brainstorm various ways to arrange the plaques on the monument’s facade. With help from his dad and some online drafting software, he eventually designed a circular pattern, with each plaque positioned as though at the tip of a five-point star.

The physical cleanup and installation, which started earlier this month, was not easy, in part because the drill bits the group were using to bore holes in the granite for the plaques kept breaking, his dad said.

“We were constantly driving back and forth to Home Depot,” he said.

James P. Challender noted how proud he was of the work his son had done.

“I’m thrilled with the final result,” he said.

That sentiment was shared by others, including veterans present at yesterday’s ceremony.

“It’s nice to be remembered, and it’s not just for yourself as a veteran,” said Ken Jordan, who served with the U.S. Coast Guard. “It’s kind of like remembering the team.”

Mike Shuler, an infantryman in the Marines, said the project touched on an important yet often neglected issue: consistent maintenance of the country’s veterans monuments.

“I’ve been to a lot of memorials around North Carolina and even Washington that are just run down,” he said. “I think it should be more than one day a year where it’s recognized, where it takes people to come out and clean them up. Any common civilian should speak up for monuments that have been weathered. Because it stands for something, for those guys who never came home.”

“That’s what we have to remember them by,” Shuler added. “So when I see monuments that have been cleaned up, it’s a really good feeling.”

Besides lauding Challender’s project, speakers yesterday spoke broadly about the significance of the holiday.

“Far too often the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy,” Lloyd told the crowd. “Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us ever knew. . . . They came from all walks of life and regions of the country, but they all had one thing in common: love of and loyalty to country.”

Concord Mayor Jim Bouley acknowledged that, for many, the annual three-day weekend marks the beginning of summer. But he reminded listeners to take a moment to reflect on the contributions made by the men and women who serve in the military.

Ayotte sounded a similar chord, noting also the extreme sacrifice made by the family members of those individuals.

“When our men and women go off to war, it is not just they who are serving,” she said. “It is those they leave behind that make the sacrifices for our nation. So I want to thank their family members.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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