Veterans Day 2018 target date for Franklin WWI monuments

Part of a 4,000-plus contingent of Venango County residents who served during World War I are these military men marching down Liberty Street toward the courthouse. Franklin resident Bob Billingsley, leader of the successful campaign to erect a World War I monument in the city, said he is "curious" about the procession of men wearing hats and suits who are marching alongside.Part of a 4,000-plus contingent of Venango County residents who served during World War I are these military men marching down Liberty Street toward the courthouse. Franklin resident Bob Billingsley, leader of the successful campaign to erect a World War I monument in the city, said he is "curious" about the procession of men wearing hats and suits who are marching alongside.

By JUDITH O. ETZEL – Contributing writer

The formal dedication of Venango County’s World War I monuments in Franklin may be a full year away, but that hasn’t given Bob Billingsley reason to pause.

This June 1917 photograph shows members of Company F, 16th Regiment, National Guard, assembled in front of the Venango County Courthouse in Franklin. The soldiers were among more than 4,000 Venango County residents who served in the military during World War I. The National Guard was called up in mid-1917 for training and left for France in May 1918, not returning home until May 1919.

This June 1917 photograph shows members of Company F, 16th Regiment, National Guard, assembled in front of the Venango County Courthouse in Franklin. The soldiers were among more than 4,000 Venango County residents who served in the military during World War I. The National Guard was called up in mid-1917 for training and left for France in May 1918, not returning home until May 1919.

“One year from now it will be dedicated but I’m working right now to arrange a multi-day program, one that has a banquet, a fly-over, drill teams,” said the Franklin resident who led the campaign to build the monument on behalf of the Venango County Historical Society.

“Veterans Day 2018 – that’s the date. It marks the Armistice Day that signaled the end of World War I.”

The project, launched in 2013, includes a doughboy statue that was installed in 2014, foundation work for a second monument and etching now underway on six granite slabs listing the names of 4,000-plus Venango County residents who served during the 1914-18 World War I.

The elaborate monuments are located in front of the Venango County Courthouse in Franklin.

Additional granite slabs, necessary when the list of military veterans swelled, arrived last week, said Billingsley.

Craftsmen from Franklin Granite Works are adding the names, a task that will take several more months. Installation is set for next summer.

“That was a two-year endeavor by six people, led by Carolee Michener,” said Billingsley. “We checked VA records, obituaries, newspapers, cemetery records, private records, books, just about anything we could find. It’s a very complete list of names.”

The new slabs will have a few small, blank spaces that will be etched with local World War I-era scenes, said Billingsley.

Among the photographs loaned to Bob Billingsley of Franklin was this scene of Franklin troops in a downtown Franklin parade. The returning soldiers, sailors and Marines are shown turning the corner from Liberty Street to 13th Street.

Among the photographs loaned to Bob Billingsley of Franklin was this scene of Franklin troops in a downtown Franklin parade. The returning soldiers, sailors and Marines are shown turning the corner from Liberty Street to 13th Street.

In searching for scenes, Billingsley received a handful of old photographs that were loaned to him by Ted Green Jr. of Rocky Grove. Some show service members from Franklin in a parade upon their return home from Europe in 1918 while others depict one unit just prior to deployment overseas.

As the monument project grew in scope, so did the costs, said Billingsley. The figure is tentatively pegged at $100,000.

“We’re still raising money but we’ve been very blessed with contributions,” he said. “Every dollar donated has gone to the project. There has not been a cost for anything else, not even a stamp.”

The Historical Society’s World War I monument project has drawn interest from other sources. Billingsley has been invited to outline the local effort at a Nov. 19 meeting in Franklin of representatives from northwestern Pennsylvania’s 21 Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters.

“It’s always interesting to talk about it. It has been a labor of love,” he said.