Local Veteran Raising Money For Women’s Legacy Memorial In Kokomo
Photographer / Jim Hunt
For Jerry Paul, it’s all about what you leave behind.
As a veteran who was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968 and subsequently spent two years in Vietnam (1970-1971), Paul has spent countless hours as president of the Howard County Veterans Memorial Corporation (HCVMC) raising awareness on veteran’s issues, as well as funds for several important military monuments in Kokomo.
His latest endeavor as the HCVMC’s leader is spearheading a $350,000 fundraising campaign to construct a Women’s Legacy Memorial, honoring women throughout the history of the United States military. So far the organization has raised about $143,000 for the project, and the Howard County Board of Commissioners approved installation of the monument on the northeast corner of the County Courthouse in 2017.
“The fact is that we have done a horrible job in the country honoring our women in the military,” Paul says. “We need a lasting way to honor what so many women have done at home and abroad to serve the country.”
The memorial will depict three female figures including Rosie the Riveter, a World War II cultural icon, and Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell, the first black female fighter pilot in the history of the U.S. Air Force. The third figure will be a modern female soldier, kneeling with a bowed head, holding a musket from the days of the Revolutionary War.
“It covers all women,” Paul says. “Rosie the Riveter represents the working women, Kimbrell represents all the women of color who have had to overcome two glass ceilings of gender and color, and then the kneeling soldier has a prosthetic leg representing women down through the years since the Revolution. She’s letting you know that women have served since the beginning and pay the price to serve the country.”
Previous HCVMC fundraising efforts resulted in the Blue/Gold Star Family Memorial, located at Darrough Chapel Park. Paul designed the memorial in 2009, which honors military family members and which was completed in 2015. The group hired Idaho-based sculptor Benjamin Victor for the Family Memorial and brought Victor on to sculpt the Women’s Legacy Memorial as well.
“I want people to feel it when they look at the statues of the three women,” Paul says. “That’s what we did with the family monument – when you see the man’s face, he’s got a roadmap of his life on his face. Every monument should tell a story, and you want to connect the monument with the people who are there to look at it.”
A Kokomo native, Paul says his family’s roots in Howard County go all the way back to 1850. After getting drafted into the Army in 1968, just one year out of high school, he served as crew chief on a medic helicopter in Vietnam, evacuating wounded soldiers from combat areas, and received an Air Medal for meritorious achievement during flight.
Much of Paul’s inspiration for the Women’s Legacy Memorial comes from his mother, Barbara Jean Wagner, who grew up through the Great Depression. Wagner dropped out of high school to work as a waitress to help support her parents and siblings and went on to raise Paul and his two brothers as a single mother.
While the HCVMC is still nearly $200,000 away from hitting its fundraising goal for the monument, Paul is determined to see the project through.
“What helped us on the family monument project was some of the builders who worked on it, like the company out of Indianapolis who put on the limestone caps, gave us discounts once they learned about what the sculpture was, and that’s what we’re trying to do this time for the Women’s Memorial,” he adds. “I’m hoping we can get some help in that way.”
The HCVMC was formed in 1999 as a partnership between Vietnam vet Roger Roe, his friends at the UAW Local 292, and several local business leaders, in an effort to establish a memorial to honor Howard County veterans. The memorial was completed in 2000, and since then the HCVMC, with Paul as president and Roe as vice president, has continued to honor those who have served in the U.S. military, locally and nationally, through its community-based projects.
For more details on the Howard County Veterans Memorial Corporation including donation info, explore hcvmc.com.