Originally Published: November 9, 2011 9:55 p.m.
Vietnam veteran Jim Liberti, who served in the Air Force, said making a memorial plaque to honor Prescott High School veterans who died in battle was a labor of love.
"It was as much an emotional task as a woodworking task," Liberti said. "As I was making this, I remembered that it was for those who had passed away."
About 40 people attended the dedication Wednesday evening at the permanent memorial, located at the school's entrance, with a monitor that shows pictures of fallen veterans; the World War II memorial plaque; the new memorial plaque for fallen veterans of other wars; and helmets and shrapnel in the Prescott Veterans' Memorial display case, with the inscription: "To all our fallen Badgers who have walked these halls and have made the ultimate sacrifice, you will be forever remembered."
Joe Rivera was there to honor his brother Juan, killed in action in 1950 while serving in the 24th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
"He was just 19 years old," Rivera said of his brother Juan. "He was one of seven brothers - now there's only two of us left. We really appreciate the memorial."
During the ceremony, Air Force Reserves Col. Denny Peeples, who leads the Air Force JROTC at Prescott High, thanked Liberti and the other men who made the memorial possible.
About 2 1/2 years ago, Terry Parker, a PHS teacher who worked with special-needs students, told Peeples some of his war stories, and Leo Cordell, a former custodian, said he lost many of his best friends during Black Hawk Down.
"We have teachers in the classrooms, custodians, bus drivers and others who have answered their country's call to duty," Peeples said. "The students have no idea, but they should."
Parker raised money by performing music during lunch to fund the display case for the memorial, Peeples said. Woodworking teacher Tom Bockman's students built the memorial display case, and PUSD electricians did the rest.
Patrick Gregory, who sells hot dogs outside Foxworth Galbraith in Prescott, and whose wife teaches special education classes at PHS, donated a year's worth of tips toward the memorial.
"Look at all the veterans have done for us," said Gregory, adding, "It honors their families who are often forgotten."
Liberti created the memorial plaque after Dan Strauss, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam Era, raised money for it and later installed it in the display case.
"Prescott High School students who did indeed die for our country need to be recognized," Strauss said.
Liberti said he tried to make the new memorial plaque look exactly like the one at the school that's more than 60 years old, but couldn't find just the right wood, so he used mahogany instead.
"The real challenge was finding onlays to match the old ones," Liberti said. "I wrote to companies who made them, and they said they didn't have any that old, so I bought current ones and made them look as similar as I could."
The names of 16 veterans were added to the new plaque, and Peeples read them during the ceremony, starting with "Ernest A. Love, 1918, World War I; Juan Rivera, 1950, Korean War; Larry Hobbs, 1967, Vietnam War."
Now, Peeples said he needs the community's help to identify more names to add to the memorial plaque, and urges people to call him at (928) 445-2322, ext. 164.
"In a small town like this and a school where people know each other so well, it is the proper thing to do," Peeples said.
Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Dave Smucker and PUSD Governing Board member Dr. Joan Fleming also spoke at the event.
"The Air Force JROTC does great things," Smucker said. "It's timely, on Veterans Day, to recognize our veterans who paid the ultimate price."
Earlier this week, Air Force JROTC cadets honored veterans who work for the school district by presenting them with a certificate of appreciation for their service.
Today, community members can also view an Honor Wall in the school entrance with the names of more than 3,000 local veterans.