The courthouse square in downtown Denton is often referred to by Dentonites as the living room of our city. It's an appropriate way of describing where Denton's heartbeat originates and the place we gather for important occasions like 4th of July. We celebrate here with parades and events. This is where we communally kick off Christmas at the Holiday Lighting Festival.
In a typical home, the living room is where family "stuff" is kept, shared, and perhaps displayed. In my house, for example, family photos adorn the walls. Antiques passed down from our parents and grandparents are meaningful decorations and, in some cases, furnishings. The favorite television, commonly-loved books, the couch and comfy chairs, the encased folded flag on the mantel presented to Tim at his dad’s military funeral, photo albums, fresh-snipped flowers from the backyard in a little vase on the coffee table: this room is the place where we hang out together.
Our kids are all out in the world on their own now. Still, when they come to visit, the living room is where they plop down, throw a leg over the arm of a chair, and revert to the casual comfortableness of home. And on occasions when we have guests, we relax and chat in the living room. The name we ascribe to this space says it all. It is the space carved out in our home where we live.
Denton's living room is the same. First of all, it’s big. There’s plenty of room for a lot of people to enjoy it together. That’s important since Denonites are a big family. The carpet is soft green grass. Giant, leafy pecan trees are a canopy of cool shade. We spread a quilt and listen to music, picnic, read or just doze. The kids play. Pups lounge. The Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum's exhibits in the center of the room tell our story, preserve our past, remind us of our roots. Our namesake John B. Denton is buried right on the lawn. It is fitting that our tribute to our heroes, our Denton County war veterans, is also here.
Denton County's All-War Memorial was unveiled on May 25, 1996 to honor all the county’s citizens who served the United States in times of war, from the Spanish-American War through the Persian Gulf War, Desert Storm. The Denton County Historical Foundation (DCHF) first formally proposed the memorial idea five years earlier, on July 4th, 1991. In materials developed to promote the project, the DCHF described its vision as a permanent communal expression of gratitude to the "thousands of men and women who have left the comfort and security of their homes and families to help protect our freedom. Some have returned scarred. Many never returned at all."
A committee appointed by the DCHF devised a nationwide competition among artists to find the unique creation that would honor our veterans for generations to come. They chose Mike Cunningham of Argyle's design from among more than 40 submitted and set Veteran's Day 1995 as the groundbreaking date.
Cunningham finished his creation less than a year later. The 13'x7'x3’ sculpture reflects the spirit of Denton. He chose materials used to build the Courthouse back in 1896 for the memorial's granite columns and limestone blocks. The bronze relief on the front depicts preparation for war, artistically rendering a Biblical tradition where plows were melted and shaped into weapons. The relief also captures soldiers departing for war by train and then returning war-weary to civilian life. A granite panel in the center of the bronze relief names the six wars the monument commemorates. The completed sculpture was unveiled on Memorial Day 1996.
While researching for this column, I learned that Memorial Day began over a century ago in 1886 just after the Civil War. Known then as Decoration Day, it was officially set aside annually at the end of May to honor comrades who fought for America. According to the U.S. Department of Public Affairs, May won out on the calendar for the full bloom of spring and the ready availability of flowers and greenery for decorating military gravesites. After World War I, Memorial Day evolved from Decoration Day to include remembrance of the fallen in both wars. In 1971, Congress finally declared Memorial Day an official federal holiday.
Being Memorial Day, it is the proper time to remember the story behind the beautiful monument in our living room. We gather around it with ceremony at Veterans' Day, but the monument is here every day in the center of our many other events and day-to-day activity. Perhaps we see it so much we take for granted its meaning. I, for one, purpose to remember what is stands for, who it honors, and how different our lives as Americans and Dentonites would certainly be without our heroes.