As Memorial Day approaches, Sanford residents Kim Burgess and her husband Jon have only gratitude and respect for their community.
For the past year, the couple has been in awe at how their community rallied to rebuild the Sanford Veterans Monument and the new First Responders Monument.
To honor veterans, Coleman's Memorial Day celebration will be held on Monday at 11:30 a.m. at the Memorial and will include music, poetry and a 21-gun salute.
The original monument erected in 2018 was completely destroyed on May 19, 2020, after the Edenville Dam failed, causing major flooding and destruction throughout the surrounding communities. The memorial was rededicated on the first anniversary last week.
“The outpouring has been astronomical,” says Burgess. “It means so much since a lot of these businesses and residents were hit hard themselves.”
Burgess remembers walking back to her truck a year ago following the flooding and seeing the wreckage firsthand.
“The devastation. It was overwhelming,” she says. “I thought to myself, ‘the death count. There are going to be a lot of lives lost.’” As days passed and without reports of any deaths, Burgess says, “It was a miracle. We owe it all to the first responders in our surrounding areas.”
The Burgess’ focus on rebuilding the monument and expanding it became crystal clear.
The Sanford Veterans Monument was originally erected to honor veterans, including Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan Burgess, who was killed in Iraq in 2006.
The monument was originally erected to honor veterans, including the couple’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan Burgess who was killed in Iraq in 2006. Hundreds of people in the Sanford community played a role in helping build it. It was a place of pride for the community with its lighting system, visible for miles.
During the flood, seven 35-feet tall aluminum flag poles washed away, each one honoring a different branch of the military. Last spring and summer, the task at hand was to find those missing poles. Burgess made it a quest to find all the fallen flag poles.
Volunteers walked the river banks for miles, Burgess says. “We walked and walked. We lost track of where we were since there were no landmarks. And six weeks after the flood, we found the last pole,” she says. “The poles were ripped down; they had marks and scars and floated downriver. We were convinced that people could relate to that journey,” she says.
This flag was recovered from the flood.
Five of the seven aluminum poles that were recovered were refurbished into the First Responder Monument. Burgess says she knew immediately that a monument honoring those first responders had to be added.
“No one differentiated. First responders came from all over: Coleman, Edenville, Gladwin County, Midland. We have them to thank; they saved lives.”
People from across the state and nation donated to help pay for the project. A Go Fund Me campaign was also held. Burgess says she wants people to come visit, and for it to be a place “to recover and find peace.”
During the flood, seven 35-feet tall aluminum flag poles washed away, each one honoring a different branch of the military.
Today, the monuments represent much more.
“We have so much love and respect for our community,” says Burgess. “Within a few days, we had so much outpouring. A lot of businesses, people and the community came forward, and they were hit hard themselves. Family and friends wanted to help us rebuild. We are so thankful that it was returned to our community.”
During the rededication ceremony last week, Burgess says there was a moment of silence held at 5:46 p.m. — the exact time when the multiple dams failed.
“We’ve had some dark moments, but some happy and successful ones too,” says Burgess. “We’re trying to migrate from #SanfordStrong to #SanfordRising. That’s what we’re trying to figure out. What does our future look like? What do we need to do now to move Sanford forward?”
The Sanford Veterans and First Responders Monuments can be found at the trailhead located at the Sanford Pere Marquette Rail-Trail.
Memorial Day in Coleman
Casey Zylman served with the 25th Infantry Division as a Calvary Scout during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
It’s been 14 years this month since Amie Zylman lost her brother Casey while he served with the 25th Infantry Division as a Calvary Scout during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Zylman says he would've been proud of the Coleman Veterans Memorial since he was “very interested in war history and veterans.” The memorial features life-size sculptures of soldiers wearing uniforms and gear, each representing a different war. The statues include a female soldier and a canine.
The Zylman Family wanted to honor the memory of Casey and other Coleman-area veterans by building the memorial, which includes three walkways, an outer circle, Bricks of Honor, the statues, and a Soldier’s Cross. “United by Sacrifice” is the meaning of the memorial. The original stands at the legendary Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, home of the 25th Infantry Division.
To honor those veterans, this year’s Memorial Day celebration will be held on Monday at 11:30 a.m. at the Memorial and will include music, poetry and a 21-gun salute. Zylman says they couldn’t have held the event if it weren’t for the Coleman community and the committee members who help maintain the striking memorial and its grounds.
The Zylman Family wanted to honor the memory of Casey and other Coleman-area veterans by building the memorial, which includes three walkways, an outer circle, Bricks of Honor, the statues, and a Soldier’s Cross.
The memorial means a lot to their community and to the county, Zylman says.
“It’s a very good thing to have our veterans honored. It’s a place where youngsters can go talk to older people and learn about what these men and women sacrifice for our country. The kids here have so much pride and respect for the memorial. I get questions all the time about the memorial, about Casey and what it’s like to be a Gold Star Family.”
The Coleman Veterans Memorial means a lot to their community and to the county.
Zylman, who works as a para pro for Coleman Community Schools, says the memorial isn’t meant to be political.
“It’s about honoring those who are fighting, protecting and serving their country,” she says.
The United By Sacrifice benefit concert originally planned for this Sunday, May 30, has been rescheduled for September 11, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Canadian travel restrictions.
The band scheduled to perform, The Guess Who, is from Canada. Go to colemanveteransmemorial.org
for more information on tickets.