April 25, 2013

American Legion to replace eternal flame

Jamie Jones

— The Eternal Flame of Freedom that stands as a tribute to all military veterans on the lawn of the Whitfield County Courthouse has gone out.

A local group wants to re-ignite the flame.

American Legion Post 112 in Dalton is holding a fundraiser to replace the broken eternal flame with plans to rededicate the statue and the neighboring Whitfield County Veterans Memorial later this year during a special ceremony. The group helped erect the existing monument.

“We’ve had a flame out,” said Leo Whaley, a veteran and member of American Legion Post 112. “When you have a flame out with your freedom flame, you have a problem. We don’t want it to look like we think less of the people who have sacrificed for our freedom. It’s just something that our American Legion Post is interested in, and I’m surely interested in it because that was a work of sheer joy. It’s something I’m proud of.”

The eternal flame was dedicated Nov. 11, 2003. In the past few months, it stopped operating. Replacing the monument will cost between $5,000 and $7,000, Whaley said.

“It may sound like a lot but it’s not when you see what it represents,” he said. “You can’t put a price on it.”

The monument honors Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy veterans. An inscription on the statue reads: “The Eternal Flame of Freedom is dedicated in memory of our veterans of Whitfield County who gave their lives for our country. They will never be forgotten.”

The Dalton City Council and the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners have agreed to split the eternal flame’s natural gas bill, which totals about $4,800 a year.

“We’re on board with that,” Dalton Mayor David Pennington said.

The county has picked up the bill in the past, Commission Chairman Mike Babb said.

“We have a lot of World War II veterans and we’re losing them every day,” Babb said. “We want to honor them along with all of our other veterans.”

He said the cash-strapped county is “more than open” to any other government agency, group or citizen that would like to help pay for the gas.

There’s a second part to the project.

American Legion members plan to add to the Whitfield County Veterans Memorial, which is next to the eternal flame. They want to include an inscription honoring veterans who fought in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan to go alongside inscriptions remembering those who participated in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The memorial was dedicated on Nov. 5, 1988, and has not been added to since.

You can send donations for the eternal flame to American Legion Post 112, P.O. Box 932, Dalton, GA 30722. Please note the donation is for the “Eternal Flame of Freedom Account.”