Nov. 17, 2018 — Florence is usually a very veteran-friendly town. Sunday’s Veterans Day Parade brought together active and retired members from all five services on a beautiful sunny day, with service flags flying as they marched through Historic Old Town Florence to the applause of thousands of fellow citizens along the parade route.
However, there was one dark cloud in the sky on this bright Veterans Day, according to local veteran Tony Cavarno.
“Somebody stole the brass plaque from Veteran’s Memorial Park! I can’t believe that someone would stoop that low and on Veterans Day no less,” he said.
Cavarno got a call from a fellow veteran early in the day on Sunday, Nov. 11.
“He told me the plaque was missing. At first, I thought maybe it had fallen down, but when I went and looked at the spot where it had been, I was pretty sure it had been taken,” he added.
Cavarno has filed a police report concerning the theft, but the prospect of recovering the stolen plaque is dim — which is particularly troubling to the vet as he has been involved with the park since its inception.
Cavarno is a member of Florence Elks Lodge #1858, a member of the “Band of Brothers” group of veterans and a leader in the extended community of veterans and ex-military members who make up a large percentage of the population of Florence. He is also one of the members of a group of veterans that meets at Old Town Coffee to informally share stories and reminiscences from their days in the service.
This is the group that first met with the Florence city manager almost 15 years ago to work towards establishing a permanent location in Florence for the recognition of veterans.
The city was willing to work with the group, offering an undeveloped space on Bay Street for the project. Cavarno and his associates took the city up on the offer and began the process of soliciting donations to build an appropriate tribute to Florence’s veteran community.
“We ran into so many obstacles and stumbling blocks and we had to get seven different permits, I believe it was, along the way,” Cavarno said. “The Army Corps of Engineers really hung us up because we were dealing with the river and the water used to come half way up the parking lot, so we had a lot of work to do to make this happen. Now the Veteran’s Memorial Park Commission has a perpetual agreement, for 99 years, to have this park here and we agreed we would take care of it during that time.”
The Veteran’s Memorial Park has grown from its original humble beginnings to an impressive and respectful monument to those who served. There are flags from all five military services at the park and large panels display the names of service members and their dates of service. These panels can be purchased by friends and family for $75, which pays for a brick with the service person’s name carved into the block and then adhered to the wall panels.
“President Reagan is on the wall, and we have three Medal of Honor recipients and 20 Civil War Soldiers on the wall,” Cavarno said. “But none are more important than any of the others. They all served their country and we honor their service.”
Cavarno was originally concerned that the plaque might have simply fallen and been picked up by a passerby, but the material used to adhere the brass plaque was extremely robust and that scenario seems unlikely.
“I put that plaque and the other service plaques up myself,” he said. “I went to Pro Lumber and I told them what I wanted to do, and I said I want the very best product you have. It’s nine years since we dedicated this park and those service emblems are still up there, so I am sure it didn’t just fall down. Somebody took it.”
According to Cavarno, the original group of volunteers who built and maintained the park has given way to a larger group comprised of members from many local veterans’ groups.
“Over the years we have gotten a lot of help from the American Legion, the DAV (Disabled American Veterans), the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) and the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). We take turns coming down here every month to maintain the park, and Mike Miller from the city has also done a lot of work to help us maintain the park,” he said.
Local veterans, as well as Cavarno, are determined to replace the plaque, but first funds must be raised to have another created.
“I can’t believe someone would take it down, but they did, so we are going to have to buy a new one,” Cavarno said. “We are going to have to go back through the records to see where we ordered it from and how much it cost, because the plaque belongs up there.”
He had one more thing to say before it gets to that point.
“I would ask that whomever took it to return it,” he pleaded. “Please give me a call and tell me where you are going to put it and when. I don’t care who you are at this point. I would like the plaque back because this hurts a lot of people and these are people that served our country.”
Cavarno also said If people want to help replace the plaque, they can make a donation to the Veteran’s Memorial Park Commission and they should specify that the donation is for the plaque, so it doesn’t go into the general fund that is used for bricks and other donations.
To help with the replacement of the plaque stolen from Veteran’s Park, call Cavarno at 541-997-1677.