Eagle Scout Aiden Coleman's WWI Memorial Project
"I truly cared about those who served and wanted to make that known."
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission
Aiden Coleman is a Superstar. He is a hardworking Boy Scout, a talented leader, and a conscientious history buff. Aiden was recently promoted to the rare rank of Eagle Scout, and to do so, he decided that his required Eagle Scout Service Project would honor his community's World War I veterans. We were thrilled to hear about this project, and were able to discuss it with him.
Tell us about your Eagle Scout project - What were the Requirements? What did you decide to do? Why? How did your family & troop leaders react?
The only real requirements for my Eagle Project were to demonstrate my ability to plan, develop, and provide leadership in a new role of completing a project. There aren't any requirements on how big the project had to be, but I wanted to do something more meaningful. I knew that I wanted to do something based around WW1, and originally I was going to do a memorial for the US entrance into the war. But other aspects of life got in the way and I put it off. I wanted to do a project based around WW1 because the war had always been such an interesting period of time to me. And of course it was the 100th year anniversary of the war, so a perfect time to plan a project in commemoration. My parents were totally on board with the project idea and were there to help me the entire way. My troop leaders weren't so enthusiastic, I think they thought it might be "too ambitious." And in some ways they were correct it wasn't and easy thing to do. Not only the amount of information I had to gather but it was a very expensive project, and I had to find a way to raise enough money for the memorial.
How did the research for your project work? Who helped you with this aspect? How did you connect with them? Where did you find information?
The first thing I had to do was find a local location to place my memorial. I was turned down from a few places and finally I got in contact with the Gibson Cemetery in my hometown of Bright, Indiana. They immediately were happy to help and granted me a spot right next to their flag pole for the memorial. The idea was brought to me that I should include the local First World War veterans who served and are buried at Gibson in some way. I had to gather up all of the veterans names by going around the entire cemetery and finding which graves were marked as WW1 veterans. Thankfully the cemetery had a refined list of each veteran buried in the cemetery. I of course had to do research about the war itself so that I had an idea of what I was talking about. I needed to know dates, times, and important people. I did most of the research on my own, but I got help at the cemetery from a few friends. I found Information from family members of the WW1 veterans, the local VFW, American Legion, Gibson Cemetery, and of course the internet.
What did you learn from your research? Who were the people from your town who served? How did the war impact hour town?
From all of the research I did I can say I am knowledgeable about the war and its impact on the world. I became acquainted with many local veterans and families who were happy to share their stories and information. There were 26 local veterans that served during the First World War. All of them are buried in the Gibson cemetery. From the information I gathered the war impacted the town like it did most of the country. Many of the young men joined up and had to leave home. The town had to get by with what they could.
What type of memorial did you actually build? How did it come together? How much did it cost, and where the funds come from? When did you dedicate it?
The memorial is a stone slab set on a concrete base. The face has the 48 star flag (the actual flag that would have been used during the war) a small inscription and then the names of the 26 World War One veterans buried in the cemetery. Once I had gotten in contact with everyone and made plans with each aspect of building the memorial it all fell into place very smoothly. The entire memorial with all expenses included was just under $3000. That is pretty expensive for your average Eagle Project. I received every penny from donations. Family, friends, the VFW, American Legion, Bright Lions Club, and local businesses all helped raise money. I actually raised so much money that I had to return a large chunk of it. The dedication took place on November 11, 2018 at 11am (11/11/11). I planed this out to make this date and time which was the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Great War.
What did you take from this experience? What surprised you about what you did? What was the impact on your town?
Months after the dedication, I still am impacted by the project everyday. I truly cared about those who served and wanted to make that known. I think many people understood what I was really trying to do. Everyone was so gracious. I had family members of the vets come to me and thank me for what I had done. It was a wonderful experience that I could never forget. I gave a speech on the dedication day and then afterwards I was asked to be the guest speaker at the town's Memorial Day ceremony.