Hundreds turned a hot, humid Wednesday morning into the opportunity to pay respect to the sacrifices made by the veterans of all armed forces and honor those serving in the military as well as first-responders with the dedication of Veterans Memorial Plaza in downtown Van Buren.

The new park in the 800 block of Main Street includes a flag plaza honoring all branches of the military as well as a flag and seal for first-responders.

The military seals are featured in a monument along both sides of one of two water features. A bridge connects the flags to a star-shaped water feature.

A Battle Cross monument donated to the city by Chase Haynes, an Eagle Scout with Troop 45 in Van Buren, is in the center of the Memorial Plaza water feature. The statue, cast of pure American bronze, of a helmet, identification tags, inverted rifle and combat boots is meant to represent a fallen soldier.

Haynes currently is in Navy boot camp and was unable to attend. His father, Jay, hoisted the Coast Guard flag, one of the seven that will wave above the plaza.

Van Buren Planning Director Joe Hurst told the crowd spilling onto Main Street that it was a tremendous honor be a part of the Veterans Memorial Plaza project.

“From the very beginning, the main goal was to create a special place to respectfully reflect upon and honor the sacrifices made by veterans of all our armed forces,” Hurst said. “Seeing it all come together today at the dedication was truly remarkable.”

He said he was thankful for Mayor Bob Freeman’s outstanding vision and leadership throughout the process.

“The public participation throughout the process has been amazing and I know the parks commission and city council appreciates all the help from the community,” Hurst said. “The progress being made in Van Buren is exciting and it’s being noticed in other communities as well.”

He said he has been inspired while working on Veterans Memorial Plaza.

“The way the community worked together in planning and supporting this veterans memorial serves as a great example of how projects like these can be accomplished,” Hurst said. “I’m excited for the future of Van Buren.”

Mayor Freeman said the redesign of the original park built in 1975, thanks largely to the late Dr. Louis Peer, sought to move “from a focus on the wars and battles to a focus on the services.”

Peer’s “Hometown Heroes” banner now overlooks the park.

“The old park had just gotten a little tired, and we felt that it was time for a face lift,” Freeman said. “I think Dr. Peer would be proud of what he sees here today.”

Pat Biggerstaff, Peer’s nephew, was the architect on the project. Crawford Construction was the main contractor.

Butterfield Trail Middle School student Katelyn King read her essay, “America’s Gift to My Generation.” The essay won the Veterans of Foreign Wars Patriot Pen competition in Arkansas and placed eighth nationally.

In it, King praised her country for its “valuable history” and for being “welcoming of others that want to be Americans, and, most importantly, our rights and freedoms provided by our brave countrymen and women.”

Maj. Walter Moon’s children, Karen and Gary, raised the POW/MIA flag. Moon was a Special Forces adviser declared missing while deployed to Laos in 1961. The wife, Pat, and daughter, Angel, of Vian, Okla., native Neil Stanley Bynam were also in attendance. Bynam was an Air Force pilot shot down over Laos in 1969.

Pastor Bill Kelton, an Air Force veteran, gave the invocation and Van Buren Police Chief Jamie Hammond the benediction.

Hammond also praised Freeman for his 12 years of service to Van Buren as well as his service to the country. Freeman is a retired Army lieutenant colonel.

“And, I want to thank Bob’s wife, Terry, for letting us use her husband for the past 12 years,” Hammond said.

Veterans Memorial Plaza is located across Main Street from Freedom Park, which opened in July 2017.

While Veterans Memorial Plaza is designed as a destination to respectfully reflect upon and honor the sacrifices made by the veterans of all armed forces, Freedom Park is a central gathering spot for the community and visitors alike.

Freedom Park consists of two pavilions being utilized by the local Farmers Market, and for other groups and activities, an open green-space area with a stage, an interactive fountain feature, and benches and picnic tables.

Freedom Park includes a four-sided street clock donated by the GFWC Women’s League of Van Buren. The four-dial LED lighted street clock is 15.6-feet tall and includes cast aluminum post, saddle and head as well as aluminum bezels.

The Van Buren Lions Club funded the installation of five interpretation panels at Freedom Park.

The parks were funded, in part, by the special election investment initiative from July 10, 2012.