FORT JENNINGS — Friday evening residents of Fort Jennings celebrated the Freedom Square project opening and the dedication of a Purple Heart Memorial, a monument dedicated to combat-wounded veterans, which resulted from the efforts of 15-year-old Braden Knippen.
The memorial is his capstone project to apply to become an Eagle Scout.
Situated near a 10-foot flagpole flying a 35-foot flag, the flag and Purple Heart Memorial are illuminated throughout the night. Located in Freedom Square, the 5-foot 2-inch memorial is made of slick, polished black granite. The base, which sits upon a poured concrete slab, measures three-feet, four inches from left to right, 1-foot, four-inches thick and eight inches tall. The front of the base contains the medallions for all the branches of the military with the words “Dedicated to our Veterans” in gold, hand-engraved lettering. On the reverse is the notation of the year of the dedication and that it is an “Eagle Scout Project” by “Braden Knippen.”
The upright monument is two-feet six-inches from left to right, eight-inches thick, and is four-feet, six-inches tall. There is an etched red, white, and blue flag draped atop the monument, so that the flag hangs above and to the right side of the message “Combat Wounded Veterans” with a large purple heart medal in the center of the front side facing the street. On the back is etched the purple heart memorial: “My lettering is red for the blood they shed. The metal I bear is my country’s way to show they care. If I could be seen by all mankind, maybe peace will come in my lifetime.”
Created by George Washington in 1782 to award soldiers for “unusual gallantry, extraordinary fidelity and essential service,” the Purple Heart medal was reintroduced in the twentieth century to honor those wounded or killed in military action.
According to Knippen’s father, Joe, several past generations in their family were in the Army.
“I’m extremely proud of him. He worked very hard to organize and fundraise for the whole project and took an active leadership role in making sure the project was completed,” he said. “They installed it Wednesday morning, said Larry Streets, chairman of Freedom Square. “When I walked up to it, the tears flowed. It was so impressive. When I cried, my tears were for the memorial and for the job Braden did. He is just the perfect example of kids here in Fort Jennings. They undertake a project and they do it right.”
Touring Freedom Square and viewing the monument were Rep. Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) and Roy Klopfenstein who is the Republican candidate for District 81 in this November’s election following Ohio’s redistricting.
“Jim Hoops, our state representative was a big part of getting us substantial funds from the state to build Freedom Square,” where the Purple Heart memorial is located, said Streets.
Dedicated Friday, Freedom Square is a $300,000 project designated to create a memorial to veterans that is situated near Memorial Hall in downtown. With help from Rep. Hoops, $175,000 in funding for Freedom Square was provided by the State of Ohio’s Capital Improvement Fund. $65,000 came from donations. An additional $130,000 was gathered locally, as well as $100,000 provided by an individual anonymous donor.
To raise funds for the project, Knippen had in-hand a sketch of the design he and the members of Delphos Granite came up with, created by artist Amy Brukotter of Columbus. The funds were directed into the Freedom Square Purple Heart Monument Fund, which was part of the Freedom Square account. Knippen wrote a speech that he delivered to the entire congregation of parishioners at his church following mass over one weekend.
“I’ve known Braden for over 10 years. He is the kind of child any parent would crave because he has an ambition for good. Braden is creative, intelligent and has no problem speaking in public. He has a wonderful manner that attracts the love of everybody. He is the pride of Fort Jennings,” said Father Charles Obinwa, priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fort Jennings.
The fundraising began after last year’s Fort Fest and was completed in November 2021.
“He came to me with ideas, and I just added some things that I thought would look great,” said Joann Gerdeman, independent dealer at Delphos Granite Works. For example, she suggested the monument be taller to discourage kids from climbing on it, that he add medallions for all the branches of the military, and that he add color. “By adding the color, it just makes it look so much more dramatic. It’s just beautiful. It’s also one of the tallest monuments I’ve ever worked with.”
Brandon Groves, who does the diamond etching by hand, was able to complete the project just in time for the planned dedication ceremony. “There’s just something about the kids that do Eagle Scout projects. They are just more aware of the needs of the community and what it means to be a good person in a community,” Gerdeman said. “I was really, really impressed with Braden. He was very aware how important having this monument completed for this weekend was. He took his role very seriously. I wrote him a letter when it was all over with telling him what a wonderful person and student he was and a wonderful asset to the community. I also told his parents what a good job they did raising this kid. I see him going places as he gets older. He’s got the drive. He’s just a super kid.”
Matt Calvelage, Knippen’s Boy Scout Leader, said only four percent of Cub Scouts go on to earn the elite status of Eagle Scout. “Braden started Cub Scouts in first grade and worked his way up until today to do this Eagle Scout project,” said Calvelage. The next steps for Knippen to become an Eagle Scout are for the two of them to fill out an application and send it to the national scout office, followed by an interview, and evaluation by the board of review. After that, it takes about a month or two to become an Eagle Scout.
Knippen said he chose the phrase “Freedom is never free” because around the time of Fort Fest in the community, he said he hears that phrase often, and that veterans, as well as soldiers today, are constantly fighting for our freedom.
Reach Shannon Bohle at 567-242-0399, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @Bohle_LimaNews.