ALBION, Iowa (AP) — Respect. Honor. Solemn dedication. Those are themes echoing throughout the newly-opened Raymon Veterans Park in Albion.
Built next to Johnson Street across the street from Raymon, park owner Larry Raymon, who is also the CEO of the business, said he really hopes park visitors will carry those themes with them — especially when it comes to remembering the nation’s veterans.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” he said. “The park is a reminder of our freedoms and those who served, fought and died that we might have and maintain them.”
Even though the park is privately owned, Raymon told the Marshalltown Times-Republican that it is open to the public.
Marshall County Supervisor Bill Patten is impressed with what Raymon has created in honor of the veterans.
“I thought it was a class act,” Patten said. “There is a nice parking lot, excellent restrooms and places for people to be. It’s neat, clean. It could be in any town. I thought it was good.”
The effort to build Raymon Veterans Park began in 2015 — seven years after Raymon acquired the four acres of property. He began scouring the country for a military vehicle — one which a park could be built around. In 2017, he found and acquired a restored M110A2 howitzer owned by a farmer near Allison. The vehicle was previously owned by the Jacques Littlefield Military Vehicle Technology Foundation and was part of the largest collection of military vehicles in the world.
In the meantime, there was railroad and grain elevator structures to be demolished and equipment to be moved from the land.
The actual construction of the park began in 2018. After the tornado that year, finding contractors became a challenge, but Raymon managed to get it done. To complete the task, Wertzberger Architects, Structural Engineers, Hay Construction Services, Hawkins Electrical Service, Hartwig Plumbing and Heating and B&G HVAC were all hired to make the park a reality.
“Footings and foundations were poured in November 2018,” he said. “Development continued through 2019 and 2020 and then the COVID pandemic hit in April 2020 followed by the derecho on Aug. 10. Both impacted our ability to move construction along as quickly as we had hoped.”
An opening date of July 27 was chosen as Raymon said it was the day his immediate family could get together to see the self-propelled howitzer go into the display building for the first time.
The M110A2 series was used in Desert Storm. The gun is 35.3 feet long and weighs 31.2 tons. It fires a projectile which weighs more than 200 pounds and can travel more than 18 miles. The howitzer at the park was disabled by the military, so it can no longer fire.
The disabled weapon sits in a 50-foot-long gun display building. Made of limestone, it is 18 feet wide and 17 feet tall. There are glass windows on four sides and a lighted bronze plaque which explains the howitzer. To provide a feeling of space, the ceiling is open to the ridge beam. There is a music system, which has not gone live yet, which will play “Reveille” at 6 a.m. and “Taps” at 10 p.m. Throughout each day, World War II and Vietnam period music pieces will be played.
While the gun display building is the most prominent structure, Raymon’s favorite is the dedication plaza with a lighted plaque honoring veterans, three lighted flag poles and six bronze plaques embedded in limestone walls recognizing each branch of the United States military.
The buildings were Patten’s favorite aspect of Raymon Veterans Park. He also appreciates the fact that Raymon took steps to ensure there is no climbing on or damaging of the howitzer.
“I was impressed with the whole project,” Patten said. “He thought about it real well.”
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