In Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Veterans Day holds a special significance, not only as a day to honor all veterans but also as a testament to the dedication of the community in preserving the memory of those who have served. The Historic Letterkenny Chapel and Franklin County Veterans and 9/11 Memorial Park stand as a lasting tribute to these heroes.
The Chapel’s Remarkable History
The story begins with the Historic Letterkenny Chapel, a building that bears witness to history. Constructed in 1945 by Italian Prisoners of War held at Letterkenny Ordinance Depot, the chapel was a place of solace and worship for those in service. Its dedication on May 13, 1945, by the Apostolic Nuncio marked the beginning of its service as a military chapel.
In 1995, the United Churches of the Chambersburg Area (UCCA) took ownership of the chapel, committing to restore and maintain this beautiful property and continue its ministry to future generations. This historic chapel became a symbol of the enduring spirit of those who served in times of war.
Senator Punt’s Vision and the 9/11 Memorial
In 2006, the late Senator Terry Punt envisioned a Franklin County Veterans’ Memorial on the chapel grounds, a tribute to veterans of all American wars. The vision grew in 2010 when, with the help of Congressman Bill Shuster, three steel beam sections from the remains of the World Trade Center (WTC) were obtained to create a suitable memorial for those who perished in and responded to the events of September 11, 2001.
The 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks marked the formal beginning of efforts to raise public awareness and funding for Senator Punt’s vision. The WTC artifacts were displayed throughout the community, allowing residents and depot employees to see and touch the steel beams that were temporarily fashioned into a mobile display.
Building a Tribute to All Veterans
The official Ground Breaking Ceremony took place on October 31, 2011, signifying the start of construction efforts. During this event, William Snell, President and CEO of F&M Trust, made the first official monetary gift of $10,000 for the sponsorship of the “911 Flag Display.” Planning accelerated, and a Memorial Park design was established, with a target date of Armed Forces Day 2012 for its completion.
Local artist and sculptor Michael Fisher, along with his associate Peter Nicklas, played a crucial role in designing and fabricating the 9/11 Memorial. On Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 19, 2012, the Memorial was dedicated, with more than 400 people in attendance. The ceremony was a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by veterans and first responders.
The Memorial was dedicated by the First Counselor to the Apostolic Nuncio, maintaining a link to the chapel’s history. Former Governor Mark Schweiker and Bishop Joseph McFadden also participated, highlighting the significance of the occasion.
Community Unity and Ongoing Commitment
What stands today is the result of an incredible rallying of individuals and organizations throughout Franklin County, both public and private. The Franklin County Commissioners and Visitor’s Bureau established the financial structure to ensure the project’s continued development beyond Phase I.
The completion of Phase II coincided with the 11th anniversary of 9/11 in September 2012. The U.S. Coast Guard flag display was added to the Veterans Plaza, bringing the total to nine of thirteen flag displays sponsored by various families and organizations.
Phase III, completed in May 2013, added the finishing touches around the main stand of flags on the Veteran’s Plaza, enhancing the overall appearance of the Memorial Park.
Honoring Veterans Year After Year
Each year, Franklin County continues to pay tribute to its veterans. In 2013, Phase IV saw the development of an internet website, www.VeteranTrailPA.org, and the creation of the Military Trail/Walk of History and Interactive Veteran Database. These initiatives allow families to upload information about their loved ones who have served in the military, preserving their stories for future generations.
Throughout the years, various flag displays were added to the Veterans Plaza, including the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) flag display and the Law Enforcement (Police) flag display. These additions underscore the diverse and significant contributions made by different branches of service and first responders.
A Testament to Remembering
The dedication and commitment of the Franklin County community to remember, honor, and preserve the memory of veterans are evident in the Historic Letterkenny Chapel and Franklin County Veterans and 9/11 Memorial Park. Each year, services and ceremonies mark important milestones in the county’s history and provide a space for reflection and gratitude.
On this Veterans Day, we pay tribute to all veterans and the community of Franklin County for their unwavering dedication to preserving the legacy of those who have served our nation. The Memorial Park stands as a symbol of remembrance and a testament to the enduring spirit of patriotism and unity in Franklin County.