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Obelisks worth a closer look

| Friday, May 4, 2012, 7:05 a.m.

For decades, the World War I Doughboy monument has graced the center of Mt. Pleasant, standing as a tribute to all those who have fought for their country.

The Veterans Wall and Park has also been a place of honor since its 2004 dedication. A granite wall records names of the borough's veterans and there is a fountain for reflection.

Three small black granite obelisks are also an integral part of the memorial. Although the obelisks have been in place for two years, the details in the memorials might surprise many area residents.

They would be well advised to take the time to appreciate the obelisks.

The three-sided memorials were created in response to park committee member Ed Mihalcki's desire for a unique and moving tribute.

"I wanted to be a part of the planning of the park," Mihalacki said, "and the obelisks were part of the plan. The members asked me, 'Can we do something different with these?' and we discussed many ideas and went through many pictures."

The committee then asked Mihalacki to spearhead the project, allowing him to decide which direction and what form the project was to take.

"Ed's a historian and he loves it," said Larry Tate, president of the overall veterans park committee. "We told him that if he wanted to take care of it, then he could."

As a Vietnam veteran and military historian, Mihalacki was more than qualified -- and also quite pleased -- to handle the obelisk project.

"I felt that this was very important," Mihalacki said, "and I wanted them to represent something that was in common with all veterans. I wanted to try to come up with an idea where all veterans would be respected in some way, something that would be there for all veterans in general."

Mihalacki spent several months researching the final design.

The three obelisks feature nine hand-engraved scenes. Six sides are dedicated to depicting the six branches of the military service, each featuring an event associated with that branch.

One side panel is dedicated to those who died in 19 wars and conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to Iraq. Another shows many of the medals that were awarded over the years.

The final panel is dedicated to Mt. Pleasant native Henry W.B. Mechling, who was a Medal of Honor recipient.

Every side of each obelisk is done in fine detail, with each side telling its own story and having its own character.

"I wanted to come up with what would be considered the high point in each military service," Mihalacki said, explaining that he decided to focus on World War II events from all six military branches.

"All of the etchings are from World War II," Mihalacki said, "and what would be called the shining glory of all the military services."

The final choices for the six units were taken to McCooley's Memorials in Johnstown, where artisan Todd Conrad took Mihalacki's photographs and etched them into the granite monuments, not using any patterns or forms.

"All of the work was done freehand," Mihalacki said, "and the craftsmanship is excellent."

The research for the final product took months, but with at least one of the branches, the choice was an easy one for Mihalacki.

"There was no question with what we'd use for the Marines," Mihalacki said, motioning to the image of five Marines and a lone Navy corpsman raising the American flag on Mt. Suribachi at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

The Air Force scene shows a 1943 bombing run over Europe. The etching depicts an 8th Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress bombing an aircraft factory.

For the Army, Mihalacki chose a picture of a D-Day infantry assault. The scene shows soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division under heavy fire on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

The 1942 Battle of Midway is etched in granite as a tribute to the U.S. Navy, with the carving showing a Navy fighter plane as it prepares to launch from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.

The Coast Guard is represented by a 1943 scene in the North Atlantic, showing the cutter Duane as it patrols, searching for enemy submarines.

The Merchant Marine, which Congress granted special veterans status in 1988, is represented by an etching of a 1942 convoy in the Arctic waters of the Murmansk Run.

The seventh side is a listing of wars and conflicts. The Revolutionary and Civil wars and both world wars are listed, along with more recent conflicts that Mihalacki chose as a tribute to many area veterans who fought in them.

The eighth side showing the medals is the lone color engraving.

"They told me they had the capability to do one side in color," Mihalacki said, "and I thought of the medals. Most people have heard of the Medal of Honor, for example, but not many know what one looks like. The Medal of Honor is a beautiful medal, and I thought that it could be something to educate them on."

There are eight medals depicted in color on the obelisk.

The final side honors Mt. Pleasant hometown hero Henry W.B. Mechling. A member of the H Troop, 7th U.S. Cavalry Sharpshooters, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery shown at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Coincidentally, upon his return home, Mechling opened a blacksmith shop that was located on the site that now is Veterans Park.

Mt. Pleasant Mayor Jerry Lucia said he is pleased with the obelisks.

"They turned out wonderful, and they really add a nice touch to the park," he said. "And Ed did a fabulous job. He came to us as a concerned citizen, and he wanted to become involved. He did many, many hours of research and spent hours with the people of the committee."

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