Fenton Has A New War Memorial

Scout's vision, dedication, results in statue honoring fallen soldiers

Raymond Wilson, a Boy Scout with Troop 121 in the Gravois Trails District, next to the new war memorial honoring fallen soldiers. The memorial is located in Fenton Park in the Heroes Memorial section. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
05/28/2010 - At 2 p.m. Monday, May 31, Memorial Day, a Fallen Soldier Memorial honoring American soldiers who died in combat will be unveiled in Fenton Park in the Heroes Memorial section.

The dedication ceremony will feature speakers to include veterans and the Boy Scouts organization. This statue is the culmination of an effort that began three years ago when Ray Wilson of Fenton, then 12 years old, was first inspired to create this memorial.

Ray, now 15 and a Boy Scout and a freshman at Lindbergh High, has been involved in Scouting for nine years. He is a member of Troop 121 in the Gravois Trails District. He is nearly done fulfilling the requirements to become an Eagle Scout, something only four percent of Boy Scouts ever achieve.

One of the requirements for being awarded an Eagle Scout is to perform service work. Some scouts will paint street numbers on curbs, or clean vacant lots. Ray's ambition was greater - to create a tribute to the brave soldiers who gave their lives for our country.

"We were watching TV and Ray saw a memorial for the 9/11 victims, and that gave him the idea," his father Ray Wilson said.

"I saw that and I wanted to create a memorial," Ray said. "Then I was watching TV another day and saw a statue honoring soldiers who had died and thought it was the perfect idea for a memorial. So I searched for it on the Internet until I found it."

Ray has had family members serve in the armed forces.

"His grandfather, Pete Stoplos Jr.; his uncle, Jim Wilson; and his late grandfather, Ronald M. Wilson, all served," his mother, Kathy, said. "He is very proud of them and I think this led to the reason he picked the memorial."

The statue that inspired Ray was made by a sculptor in Maryland, whom Ray contacted. It's based on a "Soldier's Cross," which is an arrangement of a fallen soldier's boots, rifle, and helmet that soldiers have made to honor a comrade who has been killed in action. This sculpture has since been put in as a memorial in many places in the United States. Now Fenton is getting a version of this memorial, thanks to the efforts of Ray.

Raymond Wilson stands near the Fallen Soldier memorial he made possible. Ray, with help from his parents and his brother Shawn, pounded the pavement all last summer to secure funding for the Fenton memorial. Dedication for the statue will be held Monday, May 31, at 2 p.m. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Don't think this was an easy process, though. It involved not only Ray, but his younger brother Shawn. A Boy Scout also, Shawn, 14, hopes to become an Eagle Scout. The boys' parents were involved too.

"Ray had to go before the parks board and the board of alderman," his father said. "He had to have a plan for where the statue would go, how it would be paid for, everything. And it didn't cost the city a penny."

So Ray drew up a plan and met with the boards and got preliminary approval. This was just the first step. He had to raise money to pay for the memorial.

"Ray and Shawn spent their entire summer last year raising money," his mother Kathy said. "They met with CEOs and Ray would describe his project and ask for funding."

"He also went before veteran's groups, too, and gave his presentation," his father said. "They were very supportive."

"We also did a couple of fund-raisers," Ray said. "We had a silent auction in a nursing home, and we had a donut fund-raiser too."

So last summer Ray's father drove Ray and Shawn around and they met with CEOs and other groups several times a week to raise money, and eventually they had enough pledges to cover the cost of the memorial. Besides the pledges from CEOs, Ray also received pledges from Veterans Post 400 in Fenton and also Post 2184 in Mehlville.

"He never gave up, he and his brother," his mother said.

It was an arduous process, but it's not surprising that Ray never gave up, as his mother said. When he was in third grade he saw his school district's high school, Lindbergh, in the Rose Bowl parade. Ray figured out the rotation and knew there was a good chance they would be invited back this year, so he decided to take up an instrument so he could be in the marching band. This Rose Bowl he'll be playing trombone in Lindbergh's marching band.

Raising the money wasn't all Ray had to do, however. He had to appear before both the parks board and board of alderman again for final approval, where his plan was scrutinized.

"It's kind of daunting when your kid is up there before the mayor and the board being fed to the wolves," his father. "He even had to include something in the plan for someone else to take over in case Ray wasn't available to complete it."

Finally, Ray's plan was approved. Groundbreaking was this past April, and now the unveiling is scheduled.

Ray's parents are proud of his achievement.

"Ray has undertaken what would be a monumental task for an adult, much less for a young man, and needless to say I am very proud of all he has achieved," his mother said. "Scouting is just one example of how he has stepped up to become the very best that he can be."

"As a dad, I'm sentimental about my boys," Ray's father said. "I was proud about how they stepped up to the plate and gave up their whole summer to achieve this. And it was humbling to see all these CEOs and groups meet with Ray."

Then after a pause he added, "And my boys learned that you never give up on your dreams."

The unveiling ceremony is open to the public, and Ray and Shawn and his parents invite everyone to attend. It should be memorable. How often do you get to see a statue that is the direct result on one young man's tireless efforts to pursue his dream of creating a monument to honor the fallen?

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