Phase Three of Orange County Veterans Memorial almost complete

Photo courtesy Orange County Veterans Memorial.


By Fraser Sherman

ORANGE COUNTY—In 2013, Vietnam veteran Jim Merritt had only an idea for the Orange County Veterans Memorial.

Add a decade of time, government support, plus $100,000, and the idea has become a partially completed reality, Memorial Co-Chair Bruce Runberg told The Local Reporter. By the end of summer, three of the memorial’s four planned construction phases will be finished.

“Phase one was a temporary flag pole, a temporary kiosk,  and some site work including paths, all of which cost about $10,000,” Runberg said in an email interview. “Phase two was a permanent flagpole, rockwork, brickwork, and engravings around the flagpole for about $106,000. Phase three is a permanent kiosk and electrical service to the site for around $90,000.”

The memorial website says Merritt proposed the idea to Chapel Hill Town Council in 2013 when he was a council member himself. Local veterans groups expressed their support for the project. Later that year, the town council approved the petition for a memorial. The memorial committee spent the next two years reorganizing and preparing for fundraising.

In 2015, the Orange County Commissioners approved a memorial site on Homestead Road above the Seymour Center, praising it as “an outstanding location with a large area for the memorial that is protected by an umbrella of historic trees.” Later that year, the commission approved the design for the memorial and dedicated the site on Veterans’ Day, Nov. 11.

The website’s FAQ page states that the memorial is meant to honor all American veterans, not just those in Orange County. The Memorial Committee includes Veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, and the War on Terror.

Runberg said along with overseeing the finish of phase three, the committee is working on fundraising for the final phase. “The scope of phase four includes more stonework with engraving (words and sayings) and walkways. Fundraising will continue until we have all the funds needed.”

The cost projections for Phase Four estimate it will cost around $120,000, Runberg said. So far, the committee has raised $20,000, including donations from private individuals, organizations and local governments. “Many people have donated by having engraved bricks made for friends or relatives who served, and the bricks are placed around the flagpole area.”

The website says one question they deal with is, “Why not just put up a plaque or get a town council proclamation?” The answer is that while Chapel Hill does have a brass plaque for WWII Veterans, “It has been shuffled from its original site, long torn down, to a temporary storage site where it was forgotten, and finally to the old Chapel Hill Library building with the Chapel Hill Historical Society. Many do not even know that it exists.” Local chapters of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars paid to refurbish the plaque. I

The memorial on Homestead Road won’t be as easily forgotten and can’t be shuffled into a storeroom. As the website says the memorial will be, “a permanent memorial, built and funded by the people of Chapel Hill, located in a prominent site for all to see, will be there for generations. It will be there long after the original veterans who seek it are gone.”

“It’s a beautiful memorial,” Runberg said, adding that the best thing about working on the committee is seeing such a long-term project progressing toward the finish line. “The design has been done by David Swanson, a local landscape architect. It’s been rewarding to see how many people have contributed.  Also, it’s been rewarding to see how much has been accomplished!”

Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.
This reporter can be reached at

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