The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

May 26, 2014

Reporting for duty

Overseer lovingly cares for War On Terror Memorial

HERMITAGE — On this blustery day Jim Bigler dabs a cloth over the black glass to wipe away dust.

Still not satisfied he gives the glass another wipe with more muscle. The sparkling glass reflects the image of American flags surrounding the memorial.

“It does give a special look,’’ Bigler said. “The reflectivity of the glass can be amazing.’’

As a caretaker of the War On Terror Memorial, Bigler takes his work seriously, though he is not a veteran. Dedicated nine years ago, the memorial now contains more than 7,000 names etched in the glass of U.S. military personnel who died fighting the war on terror.

Located within Hillcrest Memorial Park’s Avenue of 444 Flags, the Hermitage memorial is part of the War on Terror Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

A semi-retired employee of the cemetery, Bigler still cares for the memorial by overseeing its regular maintenance. Cleaning the glass of the memorial requires more than just muscle.

“You need lots and lots and lots of cloths along with top-quality glass cleaner,’’ he said.

Getting the monument erected also required skill. Located in a plot within the flags, old sidewalks needed ripped out to be replaced by new ones, he recalled. Flag poles had to be temporarily removed to give cement trucks and other construction vehicles access.

Grass around the monument needs cut regularly. But since the monument is largely made of glass it can’t be done willy-nilly.

“We had to change the way we cut the grass because of the glass,’’ Bigler said. “You have to make sure the mower’s chute isn’t pointed at the monument because you could pick up something that would really hurt the glass.’’

The fountain in the center circle of the monument also took some trial and error to figure out. In the first year of operation the fountain’s stream was so powerful that during windy days visitors often got hit with a light shower of water.

“We looked around and found a nicer, smaller fountain to replace the original,’’ he said. “It has a nicer look with lots of layers to it and it gives off a babbling stream kind of noise.’’

What’s more, the fountain has to be drained several times a year for cleaning and chlorine has to be added regularly to keep algae growth in check.

Visitors and family members of the memorialized deceased sometimes leave items at the base of the monuments. Flowers are the most common objects. But sometimes it’s items such as stuffed animals or personal keepsakes.

“We try to keep them there for as long as possible,’’ Bigler said. “Eventually, mother nature takes its toll on them.’’

Like other cemeteries and monument sites in the region, this year has proven to be a challenge for maintenance. Heavy and frequent rains have prevented access at times in damp areas for grass cutting.

With this being a relatively clear day, it was all maintenance hands on deck for grass cutting patrol.

“These guys are cutting grass like crazy,’’ Bigler said. “I really give them all the credit.”

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