Coeur d’Alene Parks Director Doug Eastwood at the Fallen Heroes Plaza at Cherry Hill Park in Coeur d’Alene on  Aug. 12. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Coeur d’Alene Parks Director Doug Eastwood at the Fallen Heroes Plaza at Cherry Hill Park in Coeur d’Alene on Aug. 12. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Honoring fallen heroes

Memorial plaza nearly finished

It’s a place to reflect on the sacrifices of others, where fallen heroes will be remembered and future generations will gather to learn under a promise to “never forget.”

Yet, among the sobering monuments at the Fallen Heroes Plaza in Coeur d’Alene – the names of the fallen service members etched in granite, the twin basalt towers and 9/11 artifact given to the Lake City Fire Department – there will be the sound of laughter and children playing only feet away.

On the 30-acre Cherry Hill Park just off 15th Street, work on the Fallen Heroes Plaza is wrapping up in time for the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York City, a rural field in Pennsylvania and the nation’s capital. After several years of planning and design iterations, the memorial will be unveiled at a dedication ceremony next month.

“It’s almost done now, and it looks amazing,” said Glenn Lauper, Coeur d’Alene’s deputy fire chief, as he walked around the nearly complete plaza that’s surrounded by a playground, a sledding hill and a bike course. “The idea is to have someplace where we could talk about fallen heroes, talk about the people that lost their lives in the (terrorist) attacks – the police lost 72 and fire lost 343 – and in the line of duty, but still hear the laughter of kids.”

Final stages of project

The Fallen Heroes Plaza is the second and final stage of the memorial park; the adjacent playground featuring a giant red firefighter helmet built a few years ago was the first.

The plaza, which started in concept form in late 2004 when Coeur d’Alene Fire Chief Kenny Gabriel was given a T-beam artifact from the New York City Fire Department, was designed by the Abbotswood Design Group. Its 12-foot-tall rebar sculptures of public safety officers were commissioned to a Montana-based artist and two black basalt columns, representing the twin towers of the World Trade Center, were spotted by firefighter Matt Posi and bought from local stoneworks company Tumble Stone.

“To have anything like this to honor officers is just fantastic to have in our community,” said Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. Steve Childers. “I think it is a fantastic way for us to never forget.”

While the theme of the plaza is heroes, what that means is likely to be as distinctive to each visitor as the individuals who fell in the line of duty, Lauper said.

“The concept is fallen heroes and ‘What is a hero?’ ” he said, adding that the memorial is unique in that it combines tributes to police and fire services.

In making a $100 contribution, donors can put the name of a personal hero on a brick paver. Said Lauper, “It could be anyone who is a hero to you, a parent, a soldier, a teacher, or anyone who touched your life in some way.”

Heroes’ names will be engraved

Under the gaze of the five backlit rebar figures – three police officers standing at attention and two firefighters leaning over the footprints of a companion – the names of all 185 of Idaho’s fallen firefighters and police officers will be engraved in a half-wall. At the top of the plaza farther up the hill, brick pavers were placed at the feet of three flagpoles; a donor wall, available for $250 contributions, wraps around the back of the memorial.

In addition to Idaho’s fallen and the 9/11 monument, the plaza includes a tribute to the people who lost their lives in a 1910 fire that devastated a large swath of land from North Idaho to Western Montana.

Doug Eastwood, director of the city’s parks department, said the plaza will have an estimated price tag of about $200,000 when finished. Of that, more than $130,000 has been raised through fundraisers and individual and business donations, including $25,000 contributions from both the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Coeur d’Alene Rotary, and $5,000 each from Sunrise Rotary and Avista Utilities.

“I’m hoping that it will be totally covered by the dedication,” Eastwood said, adding that any excess money raised will go into a fund to maintain the park.

‘They are the superheroes’

An FM broadcast or satellite message might be made available at the park in the future. Then, educators and visitors could tune in to hear the stories behind the monuments.

“We’re still researching it,” Eastwood said, “but I think we have an opportunity to have a message from a satellite that will give the history right there at the site.”

In any case, once the Fallen Heroes Plaza is open to the public it will be a memorial unlike any other in the area, Lauper said.

“The term hero gets used so loosely. There are superheroes and all that stuff … and I don’t think any of our firefighters or police officers would consider themselves heroes,” he said. “The people who get their names put into this circle, they are the superheroes. They really dedicated their lives and made the supreme sacrifice to their profession.”

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