Greg Bobzien, 56, of Michigan Center (near Jackson) sweeps
after he and several friends and coworkers of Bill Frank
helped install the
memorial to Frank's soldier son, Capt. Stephen Frank.
Scheduled to be
present at the Memorial Day dedication ceremonies are the
Bloomfield parents of Capt. Frank's West Point classmate,
Harting III, who died in the same blast. The two men are
buried near one
another at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The two
couples became friends after the death of their sons.
(RICHARD LEE Detroit Free Press)
In the late afternoon sun last week, she sat a stone's throw away from the memorial that friends were helping her husband build for their son.
"It's doesn't seem possible that it's been a year," said Sue Frank, staring into the placid green reaches of Heritage Park in Farmington Hills.
"It seems like it just happened," she said of the awful day that she and her husband, Bill Frank, learned their son had been killed in Iraq.
Army Capt. Stephen Frank is buried a two-day drive away, at his 1998 alma mater -- the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But last week, his parents were at the park, where friends have used contributions together with donated labor and materials to create a serene place of memory near their home.
A day of dedication
On Monday, beginning at 12:15 p.m., the memorial will be dedicated with the flourishes of band music, an honor guard of West Point cadets and booming Civil War cannon fire. The Memorial Day ceremony will also honor all the Michigan military members who've died in recent hostilities overseas, said Wally Christensen, chaplain and past commander of the American Legion post in Farmington.
On the grass around the memorial, "We're going to have 83 flags attached to 83 white crosses, representing all the service people from Michigan who died in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's the latest count we have," Christensen said Monday.
Last week, however, it was pickup trucks and brawny men that surrounded the site. Half a dozen coworkers and former coworkers of construction engineer Bill Frank, 58, shoveled sand, mortar and stones around the flagpole and the three-ton boulder at the spot where the couple will go to remember their son
A friend steps up
After Stephen's death at 29, in a suicide bomb blast on April 29, 2005, his parents created a trust fund. It was to educate his son, their infant grandson, Alex, now 3. But that wasn't enough for the couple's friend Dennis Anderson, 56, of Mason.
"I knew Stephen when he was a youngster," Anderson said, holding his hand waist-high.
"The nice thing about this is that Bill and Sue will be able to ride over here on their bikes or take a short drive and reflect on his life," he said.
Anderson said people came forward quickly when he asked for donations.
"We raised about $2,500 for this. But we're using as much donated material as we can get, and all the labor is volunteer. We want to save as much of the money as we can for Alex's trust fund," Anderson said.
A ready site
By lucky happenstance, a 30-foot flagpole was already at the site about 100 yards north of the Heritage Park Visitor Center, and just north of the park's big red barn visible from Farmington Road.
"The city's been good to us," Anderson said.
Park officials donated the big pink boulder, ran electric power to the site -- so the flag could be lit at night -- and installed a water line so the memorial's landscaping could be watered, he said.
At no charge, Great Oaks Landscape Associates of Novi moved the heavy stone into place; Angelo's Landscaping Supplies of Farmington and Wixom gave discounts on paving stones and other materials; Terra Management tree farm in Williamston donated the Bradford pear sapling; and landscape contractors Anderson-Fischer & Associates of Mason donated edging and equipment, Anderson said.
Skilled hands, too
Ron Swelstad, 63, of Farmington Hills shoveled fine sand for setting the paving stones. Tom Greyerbiehl, 51, of East Lansing wielded another shovel to put in his fourth day on the project.
Other skilled hands belonged to Greg Bobzien, 56, of Michigan Center, near Jackson.
The men hustled to finish so that master gardener Elizabeth Hatton, 73, a summer employee of the City of Farmington Hills, could plant 100 annuals around the big rock -- in red, white and blue, she promised last week.
The big moment
As the afternoon sun faded, a moment of drama took place as yards of tape were yanked off to unveil a bronze plaque affixed to the boulder. Suddenly, there was the smiling likeness of the young captain, above the inscription: "2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, United States Army. K.I.A. -- Diyara, Iraq."
Also inscribed in bronze were words close to the hearts of both father and son, the Franks said: an excerpt from General Douglas MacArthur's famed 1962 "Duty, Honor, Country" speech at West Point.
At first, no one spoke. All merely stared at the sepia metal. Then: "Awesome!" Bobzien said.
Bill Frank had known how it would look because he and his wife had designed it. Still, the unveiling froze his attention.
Finally, the man wearing the "West Point Dad" golf shirt spoke quietly, as if summing up the couple's feelings for all that their friends had done:
"I like it a lot."
Others who want to donate to the trust fund for Capt. Stephen Frank's son may write checks to Alexander Stephen Frank Trust, then mail to Ron Swelstad, 36318 Fredericksburg Road, Farmington Hills 48331. Contact BILL LAITNER at 248-351-3297.