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Brewster Legion honors World War I veterans with new pavers

New pavers recognizing soldiers were added to the city's veterans memorial in July.

Tom Behrends stands by the World War I pavers newly installed at the Brewster Memorial on a rainy Monday afternoon, Aug. 15, 2022.
Tom Behrends stands by the World War I pavers newly installed at the Brewster Memorial on a rainy Monday afternoon, Aug. 15, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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BREWSTER — The veterans memorial in Brewster’s city park has taken on a new look as 90 new pavers, featuring the names of Brewster area men who served in World War I, were laid in the memorial in early June.

The idea for the project came about when the Brewster Legion celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021.

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“We got to looking at these World War I guys — they’re the ones that started (the legion),” said Tom Behrends, who spearheaded the memorial building project several years ago. “A few pavers were purchased before, by ancestors or friends of these World War I guys, but there was a pretty good amount of them that we didn’t have pavers for.”

So as not to miss anyone, Behrends researched Nobles and Jackson county history books detailing World War I soldiers from the Brewster area.

“We had about 40 of them that we announced on Memorial Day that were on our Honor Roll,” Behrends said. As he began researching, though, he found more than twice that many who had a connection to Brewster.

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“I think our original list of World War I people were members of the Legion,” he said. “Back in those days, there were a lot of people moving around. Wherever the draft hit, that’s where they listed as their hometown.”

Behrends was able to borrow a World War I book from the Nobles County Historical Society — one that had been donated to the organization by a veteran of that war.

“The larger our numbers are, the louder our voices when we go to testify."

“You could see he had went through it many times,” Behrends said of the book. “We ended up getting a bunch more people from Brewster as I paged through it.”

He had to purchase a Jackson County book online — he found just two copies available — and that resulted in more names being added to the list.

“After going through both of these books, we had about 90 people from the Brewster area that were World War I veterans,” Behrends said.

New World War I pavers
The new pavers recognizing Brewster area veterans who served in World War I were installed in early July.
Special to The Globe

That’s when the fundraising began for the 6- by 12-inch granite pavers to be engraved with the soldier’s name, rank and wartime service information.

The Brewster Legion hosted one raffle that brought in quite a bit of money, used proceeds from the every-Thursday-night Bingo games the Legion hosts, and hosted a pork chop feed during this year’s Brewster Fun Days to help pay for the pavers. In addition, the Buffalo Ridge Leathernecks gave a donation, and the Buffalo Ridge Young Marines did service projects in Brewster to also raise money. Both the Leathernecks and Young Marines are recognized for their efforts with pavers that were placed to the right and left of the World War I pavers.

In addition to those blocks, two larger 2- by 2-foot laser engraved pavers were added featuring photographs — one of the digging of the basement for the Legion Hall in 1921, and the other featuring a soldier firing his weapon in the Argonne Force in 1918.

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When the Brewster Veterans Memorial was constructed, Behrends said they developed four sections around a pentagon for future use.

“It was a good thing to do to get all the World War I guys in the memorial,” he said. “There’s three more sections that are that same size. You want them to be filled in, but on the other hand you don’t. To have them filled in just means there’s more conflict going on.

Minnesota 96-year-old Arnold "Buck" J. Zahratka told reporters that he was amazed by the commendation and reflected on his service in the U.S. Army during the pivotal battle.

“That’s kind of the sad part of the human race — it seems like it never ends with people doing what they’re doing,” he added. “With what’s going on in China and Russia, we could easily have another (section) filled in.”

With the World War I paver project now complete, Behrends said he’d like to see granite blocks purchased for the remainder of the memorial. That way, the blocks would be there for engraving when the time comes.

Brewster was one of the later communities in the area to create a memorial to its veterans. They put a lot of thought and effort into the design, taking elements from other community memorials that they liked and would work well with their design. The idea for using angled pavers, for instance, came from Worthington’s veterans memorial. Behrends liked that design because people wouldn’t be walking directly on the engraved pavers.

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