Members of Emile Ladnier Post 42 in Ocean Springs, Miss., have raised about $10,000 to help retouch and beautify the area around the monument to the post's namesake. The monument will be the center of the town's Pershing Square.
Emile Ladnier, an Ocean Springs native, served during World War I and was killed in action four days before the Armistice was signed in November 1918, said Richard Eckert, post historian.
The Ocean Springs post was chartered the following year, and in 1927 its members erected a monument to Ladnier in front of the then–high school, which is now an arts and cultural center.
"There hasn't been much been done to it since 1927," Eckert said. The dirt mound underneath the monument spilled out onto the sidewalk, for instance. Eckert said he approached the city, which had the will but not the funding. Then, the post decided to support the revitalization project by selling pavers.
The project draws some energy from the approach of the World War I centennial, like the WWI memorial to be built in Washington, D.C.
For the Ladnier project, a paver can honor any American veteran who served at home or abroad in any outfit from WWI on.
Eckert said there are pavers representing Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star recipients, and even one Medal of Honor recipient and one survivor of the Bataan Death March.
Eckert said they've sold more than 200 pavers so far, and they'll sandwich the sidewalk with two 4'-by-8' squares near the monument. On either side of that, the Legion will place benches with a plaque honoring Ladnier. The mound under the monument will be landscaped, and a light added to shine on the American flag 24/7.
Any remaining funds will be donated to the city, earmarked to maintain other veterans memorials, including WWII and Vietnam War monuments.
"I joined the American Legion because I was concerned about the patriotism in this country," Eckert said, "so for the last three years I've been active in this Legion. I have received overwhelming response in this project.... I've had scores of compliments. People come up to me in the street and tell me they appreciate what we're doing down here."