A Labor Day dedication of a flagpole memorial in Desloge’s Brightwell Park honored Desloge High School military veterans and specifically two graduates of the school who were held as prisoners of war during the Korean Conflict.
The dedication ceremony led by DHS alumnus David Shaw was attended by approximately 150 guests, including family members of the two POWs — Jack Stegall and John M. Cole Jr. While Stegall was released and returned home alive, Cole died while in captivity.
The flagpole memorial was taken on as a project of the Desloge High School Alumni Association after another DHS alumnus, Charles Boyer, came up with the idea of honoring Stegall who had served with him on the park board when Brightwell Park was established.
Family members sat under a small tent to ward off the sun as the rest of the crowd withstood the heat while the brief program took place at the bottom of a small hill on which the flagpole has been erected.
“I want to welcome you to this short service today to honor our military veterans, and specifically, two Desloge alumni veterans who served in the Korean War and were prisoners during that conflict,” Shaw said. That would be John Cole from the class of 1944 and Jack Stegall from the class of 1947.
After prayer, Shaw acknowledged family members present for the ceremony, as well as other dignitaries in attendance.
“Now, anytime you put on a project like this, it takes the efforts of a lot of people to make it happen,” he said. “Charlie Boyer had the initial idea and he’s going to speak in a few seconds and elaborate on that, but the rest of these folks are the key people who made it happen.
“One is Danny Miller from Total Electric. Danny donated his construction equipment and he donated his expertise. He also broke a couple of bones — cracked two ribs — in putting this 50-foot flagpole up. Thank you Danny.
“Now, a little known fact. On the day that the flagpole was going up, I had the good sense not to be here and there were some people playing down at the batting cage — Jeff Blunt, his son, Tayler, and his grandson, Joshua. Charlie [Boyer] goes down and says, ‘Do you have about 15 minutes you can help us out?’ Charlie’s not good with time, folks. Seven hours later the flagpole was up.
“We want to thank the city of Desloge Street Department for their assistance in the excavation and the concrete carrying; IBW retired electrician Alan Mabery who put up the spotlight for the flagpole; Jimmy Gibson of Ready-Mix Concrete who donated the concrete we used for the finishing platform up there; and the city fire department has provided the sound system today which definitely is needed. Thank you. Also, the Mineral Area Elks Lodge who donated cash for a replacement flag and T.G. Harris and his nephew, Todd, who did the finishing work on the concrete.
“The local VFW post will be doing our color guard ceremony toward the end of the program and, last but not least, we had many donors who donated their money toward this project and without that it could not have happened. I want to thank you. It was all done completed by donations only from Desloge High School alumni.
In his remarks, Boyer laughingly agreed with Shaw that he had no sense of time.
“Apparently I have a knack and that knack is coming up with pretty nifty ideas and then finding someone who can carry those ideas out,” he said. “That’s pretty much happened with this Brightwell Park and pretty much what happened with the flagpole project. One thing I have learned though is that to get the ball rolling you either have to learn to run as fast as the guy pushing it or just get out of the way. My theory is that at my age I’m going to get out of the way.
“Anytime you have an idea — if it’s a true vision, you explain your vision well and you have an endpoint to that vision — then I believe that vision will be carried out. There have been so many different people who have been involved. Brightwell Park was started with a budget of $3,500. That’s all the park board had to spend. It was donated by St. Joe, but there wasn’t any funds to go along with that, so we did manage to confiscate some funds from the federal government and we had approximately $7,000 — of which $6,770 was spent on fuel for the National Guard engineers. That’s how we got the place level.”
Boyer said that instead of just having one ball field, the park is now a sports complex for the entire county. He said it has always been a project very close to his heart.
“Jack became a member of the park board while Brightwell Park was in process,” he said. “While we were trying to decide on a name, I think all of us envisioned a name that would describe what the park was all about — ‘sports complex,’ something like that. There were others that thought we needed to name it after someone who had served the community. Jack said, ‘Why not Brightwell Park?’ I said, “Mr. Brightwell was principal when I and many of you went to school. When you think of it, Brightwell is a perfect name for a park.
“A well is a source of water and water is necessary for the continuation of all life. When you think about a bright illuminated well, that’s what this park has been for the community. It has kept life going in the community in many different ways.”
Boyer and Shaw said that, while both knew Jack Stegall well, they had not known John Cole personally. They both agreed, however that the memorial could not be dedicated without adding his name to the plaque as well.
“Jack was released in August 1953 after 33 months and five days of captivity,” Shaw said. “John Cole died after having been in captivity for five months. He died in July 1951 at only 25 years of age. He was brought home to grieving parents and friends.”
“There are other veterans from other wars who served, who were wounded and some who died in the defense of our nation. We intend to always remember them and we will for a while, but the demands of daily life quickly turn our attention to the living of life. That is OK, for this is the life our veterans secured.
“But at least we can do this. Anytime we hear the Star Spangled Banner we need to stop and reflect on those who made our freedom possible. The playing of our National Anthem should not be considered as a delay to the start of the ballgame or just another formality that must be endured. It’s a time for taking off the ball cap, putting your hand over your heart and committing yourself to the ideas of freedom and liberty.
“And when the United States flag is carried down the street, it is time to stand up, be quiet and show respect for the banner for which so many lives have been sacrificed. It’s a time to teach youngsters to respect the flag and to honor it as our nation’s symbol for right and justice and the uniqueness that it is to be an American.”
The program concluded with the raising of the American flag by members of VFW Post 2426.
“Anytime we hear the Star Spangled Banner we need to stop and reflect on those who made our freedom possible.” — David Shaw, Desloge High School alumnus
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or firstname.lastname@example.org