Sometime between the night of Sept. 10 and the morning of Sept. 11, vandals stole two flags and damaged the poles at the Lewis & Clark Veterans Monument at Memorial Park in Helena.
“I got the call at about 3:30 on Friday,” related US Army Maj. Gen. Gene Prendergast (Ret.), chairman of the Lewis & Clark Memorial Foundation. “Someone had contacted Montana Flag and Pole, and they alerted the Helena Police Department to the damage to the poles and the missing flags.
“They tore off the covers and got into the guts of the mechanism that raises and lowers the flags, and stole the Marine Corps flag and the POW/MIA flag. They also tried to get into the First Special Service Force mechanism, but were unsuccessful.”
Prendergast recounted that it “was already a somber day, being the anniversary of 9/11” and it felt “like a punch in the gut” when he learned about the vandalism to the memorial.
The Veterans Memorial was first built in 1949, and was rededicated in 2006. The monument contains the names of 105 L&C servicemen killed in action, including 75 from WWII, 13 in Korea, 12 from Vietnam and five in the War on Terror.
“The Veterans Monument is sacred ground, and I think everyone probably feels hurt about the damage that was done here, not just veterans and their families,” said Prendergast, who was the Adjutant General MTNG when the Twin Towers were attacked 19 years ago. “All the names on that wall gave their lives so that those people could do (the damage) they did here.”
And Prendergast does not believe that it was “a coincidence” that the vandalism took place for the 9/11 anniversary.
“First you get angry, then you get sad, and then you work together to overcome it,” he said. “After 9/11, we came together as a country, and we were one country. Our nation is so divided right now, I think we need to do that again, so this doesn’t happen again.”
As for repairing the damage to the monument and replacing the two flags – an estimated $700 – the General noted an anonymous donor has already stepped up to cover the cost.
“That just tells you about the community of Helena,” Prendergast said.
©2020 the Independent Record (Helena, Mont.)
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