PROGRESS 2024: In memoriam – Monuments honor the fallen of Franklin

Patriotism is a strong value in Franklin County, where there is a rich tradition of honoring veterans.

Among many who cherish a deep gratitude for the service of veterans is Chris Ozbirn, director of the Franklin County Archives. Ozbirn, in her role as archivist and historian, has made it one of her priorities to shine a spotlight on county veterans and their service.

“They need to be honored. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have what we have,” said Ozbirn. “My husband Hilton was a dedicated veteran – he was in World War II and Korea in the United States Army … I think any way we can honor veterans, we need to do that.”

A hallway at the Archives, located at 300 East Limestone St., in Russellville, is designated the Hall of Honor – a use for which it was destined from the beginning. “When we first got this building, I told all the people who were working with me, ‘I don’t care what y’all do in the rest of this building, but this hallway, I’ve got something special in mind. I want that to be the Hall of Honor,’” Ozbirn explained. “So that’s what we did. When we started out, people would come in, and we would ask them, if they had a relative in service, would they bring us a picture.” The hallway is home to more than 300 photos donated by family members. There’s also a room just off the hall that boasts a military display.

Ozbirn was also instrumental in the banner project in downtown Russellville, following a discussion with American Legion Post 64 Commander Grant Atkins. “He and I went to Mayor Grissom and talked to him, and he was all for it,” Ozbirn said. “The city was gracious enough to supply the poles and hardware; they’ve gone above and beyond what they had to do.”

When Ozbirn began to market and sell the banners, which feature a picture of a veteran with their information, there was immediate, overwhelming interest. All told, 203 banners were sold.

They are placed on light posts throughout the downtown during patriotic holidays. “I’ve still got people (asking to buy them),” Ozbirn said. “I can’t sell any more” – there are no more light posts to use, as of right now.

The Archives is also home to Russellville Veterans Park. The outdoor park is dedicated to the local men and women who put their lives on hold when their country needed them. Its brick pathway winds among the monuments and features the names of many local heroes.

“When we opened to the public in 2004, we knew a lot of men in the 115th Signal Battalion,” Ozbirn recounted. The battalion was about to return home from deployment, and it sparked Ozbirn and other archive volunteers to dream up a veterans memorial park. Ozbirn designed the monuments, which honor veterans from the Gulf War, Vietnam War, Korean War, World Wars I and II and all the way to the Civil War. The park opened in 2009, after months of planning and fundraising to get it established. “It’s really been a good asset to have up here at the Archives.”

In addition to annual recognitions like the Russellville Veterans Day Parade, the Every Light a Prayer for Peace ceremonies, school programs and the placement of banners and flags in downtown Russellville, the county has three memorial parks where monuments serve as enduring reminders of the price so many have paid. There are additional monuments in East Franklin and just past Sloss Lake on Highway 24.

MEMORIAL PARKS

Russellville Veterans Park

Russellville Veterans Park is dedicated to the local men and women who put their lives on hold when their country needed them. Adjacent to the Franklin County Archives, the park’s brick pathway winds among the monuments and features the names of many local heroes. The welcome monument, shaped like an open book, also serves as a time capsule. Also in Russellville, at the county courthouse, is a monument that lists the names of many Franklin County natives who gave their lives for their country.

Phil Campbell Memorial Park

The Phil Campbell Memorial Park includes a stone erected in honor of veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Bay Tree Park

Visitors to Bay Tree Park in downtown Red Bay will notice a towering stone testament to the heroes of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam, Korea and Persian Gulf wars, in addition to several other monuments surrounding.

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