What began as a hole in the ground became one man’s memorial.
One man’s memorial became a neighborhood event.
One neighborhood event has become an East Valley tradition.
"We had a pine tree veering precariously to the house, so we had it removed," said Arden Rowley of Mesa. "It left a void."
The Korean War veteran and former POW replaced it with a 20-foot flagpole and stone memorial to fallen comrades, then invited neighbors to a Memorial Day ceremony.
The first in 1998 drew 40 people — music supplied by a boombox. Last year, 500 people came and the Mesa City Band played. To accommodate the growing crowd, Mesa puts up bleachers on the street and closes off the area to traffic. The days of parking on the street are gone. A local church has opened up its lot for free parking.
"It’s a good thing to get more people involved to honor those who gave their lives," Rowley said.
The memorial begins with the raising of the flag — a special one the daughter of a fellow POW gave Rowley.
Members of the five branches of the U.S. military will place a memorial wreath on the stone and read the names of fallen Arizona service personnel. They will place a small flag on the wreath and toll a bell. At the end, spectators can place small flags on the memorial as well.
"Every year we add something new, having people ask, ‘What are you going to do next year?’ " Rowley said.
He has a surprise in store this year.
"I’m not going to say what it is," Rowley said. "But it’s something most haven’t seen before."
To stage the event, Rowley and his wife, Ruth, begin planning at the beginning of the year with about 12 volunteers from the neighborhood watch program. A month prior, they distribute fliers to about 600 neighbors.
This year’s budget was $950. To help defray the costs, Rowley said, the Mesa United Way donates $300 every year, which covers the cost of the bleachers. Rowley does not seek or accept donations from spectators.
"I haven’t felt like asking the audience for money, "Rowley said, "That would ruin the spirit."
Neighbor Leisel Carrol has helped distribute fliers and put up decorations the past three years. She said Rowley’s work has been a great contribution to the community. He won a Spirit of Mesa Neighborhood Award in 2001.
"He does a fantastic job," Carrol said. "The music and the reading are very patriotic. It’s a wonderful feeling."
Rowley, who also has a collection of 400 Uncle Sam figurines, said he intends to hold the ceremony as long as he can.
"I personally saw a lot of men die for freedom’s cause," Rowley said. "I will never stop honoring them."
Other Memorial Day events
• A Memorial Day Mass will begin 8 a.m. Monday at the Queen of Heaven Cemetery, 1500 E. Baseline Road, Mesa. The Mass will honor and commemorate all military personnel, veterans and people who have died in war. The Rev. Dick Felt of Holy Cross Parish in Mesa will preside. Refreshments will be served. Parking and shuttle service is available at Harris Elementary School, 1820 S Harris Drive, Mesa. For information, call (480) 892-3729.
• The 22nd annual Memorial Day Remembrance ceremony will be 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Pioneer and Military Memorial Park, 14th Avenue and Jefferson Street, Phoenix. The event includes refreshments, children’s crafts and tours of the 107-year-old Smurthwaite House and the seven historic Phoenix cemeteries that make up the park. For information, call (602) 534-1262.
• Arizona military men and women killed in action will be honored at a Memorial Day ceremony beginning 8 a.m. Monday at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, 23029 N. Cave Creek Road, Phoenix. Keynote speaker will be Gov. Janet Napolitano. The ceremony also will include an introduction by retired Col. Webb Ellis, a flyover by the Arizona Antique Airplane Association, and a Luke Air Force Base honor guard raising the flag and performing a rifle volley.
• For families and friends of those killed in the Vietnam War, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is just a click away. The names and locations of all people remembered on the actual memorial are at www.virtualwall.org. Friends and family can add a personal memorial to the Web site as well.
City, town offices closed Monday
• Municipal offices in Apache Junction, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Phoenix, Queen Creek, Scottsdale and Tempe will be closed Monday for Memorial Day. Trash and recycling will be collected on schedule in the East Valley. In Phoenix, Monday collection moves to Tuesday and Tuesday collection moves to Wednesday. Valley Metro bus routes will operate on a Sunday schedule. For information, call (602) 253-5000. The Tribune customer service lines will be open 5:30 to 10 a.m. today at (888) 887-4286.