MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Each year, we celebrate Veterans Day on the 11th day of the 11th month. And at precisely 11:11 in the morning that day, something special happens in a Minneapolis park.
That’s when the sun is lined up behind the tall flagpole along Victory Memorial Drive to cast a giant shadow directly over the marker for Armistice Day.
That sundial effect is one of many symbolic tributes in the park that visitors may not know about.
In two different directions for nearly three miles, you’ll find perfectly-spaced trees — 568 of them — each representing one of the 568 Hennepin County servicemen and nurses lost in World War I.
Beside each tree is a bronze memorial marker with a cross for Christian soldiers or Star of David for Jewish soldiers.
And midway through the park is a memorial plaza featuring the flagpole and monuments to those who died. If you look closely through the top railing, you can make out the profiles of soldiers, subtly incorporated into the design.
“There is not another city in the country that has this,” said Minneapolis Parks Superintendent Jayne Miller. “Very few people in this country serve on our behalf but we get to enjoy the benefits of that service, and it’s important to remember that.”
The trees have deep meaning for local families whose ancestors went overseas to fight the “Great War.”
Jill Rice, 89, grew up hearing stories of her uncle, Edmund Arthur Butler, who died with other Marine in 1918, just a few years before she was born.
“It’s wonderful to have such a thing, especially on the north side,” she said.
Her son, Brian Rice, said Butler was 32 when he died in the Battle of Chateau-Thierry in France. Rice said while Butler is honored with a cross at a cemetery in Europe, it’s nice to have a tree dedicated to his memory at home.
“It doesn’t happen as much today but I think there’s still that love of the country, love of this space,” he said. “My father always called this hallowed ground.”
In recent years, though, Victory Memorial needed help. Many of the original elm trees had fallen victim to Dutch elm disease, and monuments were in disrepair.
Hennepin County helped with a multimillion dollar renovation, including new pathways, street lighting and granite monuments.
“I think we try to send a message that we still remember, we’re never going to forget,” said county commissioner Mike Opat.
It will take years for the new trees to reach the heights of the ones they replaced. But the goal is to bring back the continuous canopy that people like Charles Loring and Theodore Wirth envisioned.
“You drive up on Victory Memorial before you approach the memorial, it just sets the stage for just really an honor to veterans of the war, men and women who served in the war for us,” Miller said.
Part of Victory Memorial Drive passes through Robbinsdale, but the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Department takes care of all the maintenance.
On Memorial Day each year, they add flags beside all the markers in the park.