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.
“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 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.
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.
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.