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'Peace and Freedom' Memorial Proposed in Great Falls

Local Group Wants to Honor Those Who Fell

A black granite “Defense of Freedom memorial” with gold lettering has been proposed for placement near the Great Falls Library. The target date is Sept. 11, 2003, but the group advancing the ideas says they will be happy if ground is broken by then.

“I’ve seen a lot of people die for this country,” said Pete Hilgartner, a retired Marine who formed a citizens group to establish the memorial.

“I think about these men that died every day. Not a day goes by that I don’t,” he said.

Hilgartner said he was dining on a patio at the Old Brogue, an Irish pub at Village Centre, when the idea came to him.

“I didn’t see anything here,” he said. “The green is nice, but it wouldn’t make any difference if you were at this end or that end.

We ought to have some kind of rallying point for the citizens of Great Falls,” he said.

He talked about his idea to Mike Kearney, owner of the Brogue and an officer in Brogue Charities.

“I thought we’d get a nice rock and we’d put it down there and it would be over in about a week,” Hilgartner said. But he soon discovered that the process would take considerably longer. Now, he says, the committee is still at stage one -- finding land.

Kearney said he envisions “a peaceful garden with a black granite memorial stone and trees, benches, stone paths that connect different garden areas.”

Brogue Charities, a non-profit that spun off from Kearney’s restaurant to raise money for local projects, is raising money for the memorial. The cost is estimated at about $20,000.

“We want it to have teaching value,” said Hilgartner, to be “a place where parents can come and teach their children” about values that Americans hold dear enough to defend with their deaths, if necessary. In one draft of the design, words naming those values would be etched in gold lettering on the black granite tablet about six feet tall, four feet wide and eight inches thick.

Hilgartner and Kearney said local garden clubs will be asked to maintain gardens at the site, which has not yet been approved by the Fairfax County Library Board.

Kearney proposed that a book inside the library to include the names and thumbnail descriptions of area residents who died in major wars, undeclared conflicts or attacks such as Sept. 11, 2001.

Hilgartner, president of the 12-member committee that has already taken their proposal to Dranesville District Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, the executive committee of the Great Falls Citizens Association, the Fairfax County Library Board and the Fairfax County Park Authority.

They have conditional approval to put the memorial on public land west of the library, but first they will seek approval from the Great Falls community.

They will meet with the leaders of community civic groups at the Old Brogue at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 28.

The proposal will go before the public at a town meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 4, at the Great Falls Library. The meeting is co-sponsored by the memorial committee and Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn.

A meeting with the library board is then scheduled on June 11.

Kearney said the group’s original proposal for a memorial to be placed near the site of the old library in Great Falls Grange park was nixed by the Park Authority because trees and parking there are already stressed from heavy use of the Grange and the playground behind it. So the group’s sights are now trained on a piece of land between the library and a professional center to the west.

The memorial would be 30 feet square, Hilgartner said.

Six people from Great Falls died on Sept. 11 when a United Airlines flight crashed at the Pentagon: Richard Gabriel, Ann Judge, Barbara Olson, Lisa Raines and George and Diane Simmons. Mark Schurmeier of McLean Hamlet died in the crashes at the World Trade Center in New York. Kip Tyler of McLean also died at the Pentagon.

Several people in McLean have died in other acts of terrorism.

Frank Darling and Lansing Bennett were shot to death outside CIA headquarters on Dolley Madison Boulevard in McLean on Jan. 25, 1993.

Several years ago, the Taima family of three were murdered in their home in McLean on Memorial Day weekend, just days after the father returned from a business trip to Iraq where he allegedly met with Saddam Hussein about a business venture.

Authorities believe they were shot by a mysterious man with a Middle Eastern accent came to visit the family. The crime has not been solved.

Prabhi Kavaler, the mother of two children who lived in McLean, died in the bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 7, 1998.