WELLSBURG - The group behind the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park often has expressed a desire to involve more veterans in its efforts, and it has gained a young leader with a military background.
Ryan Weld, an Air Force Reserve captain and intelligence officer involved with reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, said as the new president of the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, he hopes to work with the group in making the public more aware of the park and establish a formal process for selecting its Veteran of the Year.
A Wellsburg native and 1998 graduate of Brooke High School, Weld currently is assigned to the Pentagon while attending the Duquesne University School of Law and gaining some legal experience working in the Brooke County prosecutor's office.
NEW LEADER — Ryan Weld, the new president of the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, suggested ideas and sought input from members of the group, including, to his left, Barbara Lewis and Joan Nicholson, at his first meeting in the new role. A Wellsburg native, Weld is a captain in the Air Force Reserve and served on a reconstruction team in Afghanistan. -- Warren Scott
"I'm busy, but I'm very committed to this," he told members of the foundation at their meeting Wednesday at the Brooke Hills Park clubhouse.
Weld is not the first veteran to lead the group. Jim Lee, chief probation officer for Brooke, Hancock and Ohio counties and a Vietnam War veteran, served as president for a time. When he resigned to focus on other commitments, the baton was returned to Howard Armstrong, who had initiated the group.
"My first official duty as president is to thank Howard for all he's done. He did the heavy lifting. His work and that of the people with the foundation are the reason that the memorial is here," Weld said, noting with support from the community, the group raised more than $171,000 for the park.
Armstrong originally had been approached by Joan Nicholson, aunt of Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Smith, who was killed in a skirmish while serving in Iraq. Nicholson suggested the memorial park to honor all Brooke County veterans who died while serving at wartime.
Weld said Armstrong will remain involved as president emeritus for the group, handling the sponsorship of pavers for the park and offering advice to him and the group as a whole.
Prior to the meeting, Weld said he'd like students from local schools to visit the memorial park, which overlooks the paddleboat pond at Brooke Hills Park.
"It's important for kids to take field trips here and perhaps have a veteran here to tell them his experiences and what the wall means to him," Weld said before the meeting.
He noted the father of his uncle, attorney David B. Cross, is among the 186 fallen veterans whose names appear on the memorial's granite wall. Also named David, Cross' father was a ball turret gunner returning from a bombing mission over Germany when his plane went down over the English Channel.
"There are a lot of personal stories on that wall I think it would be great for kids to hear," Weld said, adding, "I think we need to help the younger generation to relate to the sacrifices the older generations made."
During the meeting foundation member Marilyn McCord suggested information about the fallen veterans and 27 prisoners of war also memorialized by the park be compiled in a book that could be made available at the Brooke Hills Park clubhouse.
Among new business raised by Weld was the selection process for the foundation's Veteran of the Year, who is recognized at a dinner held each year by the group.
Weld said it's been suggested that the group name multiple Veterans of the Year but he believes it should be kept to one to give special attention to one recipient.
But he suggested the group seek nominations from the public and establish loose criteria, such as military experience and community service, to determine each year's recipient.
When the park was in early planning stages, there was talk of building an amphitheater to accommodate outdoor services held there. The idea was tabled because of the expense.
Asked if that idea may be revisited, Weld said, "I don't think we can rule anything out that would be an improvement, but I haven't had any discussions about that yet."
A dedication for the park was held on Veterans Day last year and this year a Memorial Day service was held there.
Weld said he will work to make the public aware of such events with the help of Paul "Bud" Billiard, the group's volunteer publicity coordinator; and other members of the group.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)