On April 27, 2018, the (Great Falls) History Museum will present the Montana Veterans Memorial with the “Legacy Award” for its preservation of Montana history.
“The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.”
– Calvin Coolidge
At the center of the Montana Veterans Memorial is a warrior angel. He grasps the dog tags of those lost in battle. He stands upon a grindstone, symbolic of evil being crushed. With one arm extended, he releases five doves in honor of the five branches of the U.S. military and in hope that some day they will no longer be needed.
“This is not a war memorial. It is a living memorial to those who have served,” says Michael Winters, an Air Force and Marine Corps Reserve veteran and former mayor of Great Falls (where the Montana Veterans Memorial is located).
According to Winters, the memorial began with a series of conversations in 1999. He had talked with friends, associates, and like-minded individuals, all of which found it unusual that Great Falls—which boasts a large military community—had no memorial to those that had served in the armed forces. It was clear that something had to be done.
A committee was formed and ideas were garnered. Architects, accountants, contractors, attorneys, and various local businesses stepped in to see the vision through. Even the Secretary of Air Force gave an official nod to the project, sending three military units to aid in the construction.
On May 29, 2006, the Montana Veterans Memorial held its dedication ceremony.
“No one person can take credit for our success,” says Winters. “This was a team effort. This memorial is probably the largest in the state.”
The Montana Veterans Memorial incorporates walls upon walls of tiles, each bearing the name and service branch of a veteran—men and women, from Montana and across the United States. Lewis and Clark have tiles here. Close to 200 Blackfoot warriors are honored. Each year, 200-250 new tiles are placed, and today there are some 6,800 names along the walls.
“My vision wasn’t this big,” Winters admits. “Originally we had room for about 2,000 tiles. I was one of the guys who said we’ll never fill it. It filled up in the first year.”
Since its dedication, the memorial has gone through several expansions. An onsite kiosk and map help visitors find the names of veterans honored here. Several donated benches provide a place for reflection, and three flags—American, Montanan, and POW—wave above this place of honor.
It is through the support of volunteers that it is maintained year round. Larry Malby, a USMC veteran and Purple Heart recipient, visits every day to ensure that the tiles are free of limescale, the walking paths are clear, and that no flag is tattered. It’s important that he and the other volunteers uphold this special place.
“This is a place of reverence,” says Malby. “People like to come here and meditate for five or ten minutes. I have experienced that myself.”
For Winters, the words along the outer wall express the memorial’s fundamental purpose: “Lest we forget.”
The Montana Veterans Memorial is located
at 1025 25th Street North. For more information, visit montanaveteransmemorial.org.