NESS CITY — On some days, it’s just the snapping sound the flag makes in the wind.
It’s something Loren and Lynette Stenzel can hear as they close their eyes and drown out everything else going on around them.
When they open their eyes, they see something beautiful and unique to most small towns in western Kansas.
“It’s that whip of the flags,” Lynette said. “You can just close your eyes and hear it.”
What began as a dream many years ago now has come to fruition for Ness Countians, and all the hard work the Stenzels put into fulfilling a dream is now a reality.
The husband and wife, along with generous donors and volunteers, began orchestrating something special in the county seat of Ness County in 2000. Two years later, the design and other pertinent dealings were approved by a committee, and materials were ordered.
“Loren always said we needed to have a place for people to go to remember,” Lynette said. “It’s about honoring and remembering.”
Loren is a U.S. Army veteran, serving from 1968 to 1970 during the Vietnam War. He’s a lifetime American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Sons of American Legion member. He participates in the American Legion Riders, and is commander of Frank Stull Post No. 152 American Legion in Ness City.
His commitment to his country runs deep even to this day.
“I think that’s why some of us do what we do now is because of what the veterans went through when they got back,” Loren said.
The two continue to play an active part in veterans’ activities throughout the region on a daily basis.
But it was nearly two decades ago when Loren began envisioning something special. That came after the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was in Ness City during an Old Setters Reunion.
It was then that a few people got together to begin plans for a memorial to honor those who never made it home.
“It was easier for some of the towns that do something than it is for the smaller towns because they have corporate sponsors,” Loren said.
So the group began having pancake feeds on Sunday nights to raise money for the park, which sits on the property where the former Odd Fellows building once stood west of the historic Ness County Bank Building.
There were a lot of pancakes flipped, and other generous donations and time put into the project.
But finally, the park was completed. It features large granite stones that had to be set with a crane, numerous flag poles for Old Glory and the various military branches, and a statue of a helmet resting on top of a machine gun — among other things.
The granite stones have engraved names of those who served or were killed during duty. Six of the panels are entirely filled, with two more nearing completion. More than 700 names are engraved.
A few years ago, someone left a pair of Army boots and a can of beer in remembrance at the park in the middle of the night on Memorial Day.
“It was so neat somebody was using that for what we wanted it for,” said Lynette, president of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit No. 152 and a member of the ALR and VFW Ladies Auxiliary. “They had a place to go and remember.”
Lynette said it was a proud moment when the park was completed, then later dedicated in 2005 at one of the county’s Old Settlers Reunions — an event that takes place every five years in Ness County.
She said the impact the park had on others really hit home a few years ago during the most recent countywide celebration.
After a program at the park, two Vietnam veteran friends of a Ness City native from Colorado came up to her. One of the men gave her a big “bear hug” and told her of their appreciation.
“He said, ‘Lynette, I can’t believe I had to some to a little town like this for someone to finally tell me thank you for what I did,’ ” Lynette said. “I will never forget that.
“This is what we did this for, so those people know they’re appreciated.”
“It was the outside comments that you would get more so than the locals,” Loren said about the appreciation of the project affecting far more than those in just Ness County.
The committee has been able to add to the park and help pay for upkeep from donations and memorials from veterans who have passed on.
It’s an important part of keeping memories alive and honoring those who sacrificed so much for their country.
And while the times might have changed since World War II and Vietnam into wars waged today in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are still ties that bind veterans of all ages.
“It’s just a different environment,” Loren said. “But the war is still the same. The losses and separations for those married or who have families are hard.
“That’s the part we as a general public don’t understand.”