If you see a huge crane at Canalside Tuesday morning, it is to install a different type of monument at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park. "The Battle Within Monument" is an 8,000-pound steel remembrance to the 20+ veterans who die each day due to PTSD and to those available to provide help.
"This is different," said The Battle Within Foundation President Dr. Mark Donnelly. "Sure, it respects the people who remain after the veteran has died, but it's also meant to be a very dynamic piece in that it's for the living. It's to show the veterans that there is a lifeline out there. It's for the people who are providing that lifeline, that their purpose has meaning."
Donnelly designed the subtle silhouette of a soldier carrying two figures: one in positive, one in negative. The inscription reads: "A tribute to those we will always carry, and to those we can no longer hold."
"Right directly in front of the monument is a bench, which will also have a small plaque on it that says, 'Let's talk.'" Donnelly said. "I know as an artist and a writer and professor, I can't save people, but I can start a conversation and that's really all I'm capable of doing and I hope it makes a difference."
The monument was originally an initiative of Harmonie Lodge No. 699 OM, after one of their Masonic brothers took his life while battling depression and post-traumatic stress after three deployments in Afghanistan.
"Even when you talk about it, the demons in their head are very hard to describe," Donnelly said. "Unless you've been there, it's very hard to know."
The monument will be officially unveiled on Memorial Day beginning at 9:30 a.m. with a large military service on the fantail of the USS Little Rock, including color guard and flag folding, then a processional in full regalia from the ship to the site of the monument, as the Buffalo Niagara Concert Band accompanies with patriotic songs. Donnelly said he is expecting hundreds to participate.
"We've been finding since we started this project, it's become much more heavy on our hearts than just the individual, you know, the Masonic brother of ours," he said. "Through all the conversations, through all the research, we've been finding people with this issue are everywhere...and they're hurting...and the people who are trying to take care of them, their friends and family, are just as confused with the process as the veterans themselves."
Traffic will be temporarily blocked off at Marine Drive and Erie Street in the 7 a.m. hour Tuesday, as crews install the monument, cut from two-inch-thick Cor-Ten steel by General Welding and Fabrication, Lehigh Construction, Upstate Rebar, LaFarge Concrete and CJR Machining.
The monument's final resting place will be on what Donnelly describes as "a peaceful, tree-covered hill" alongside the USS Little Rock, the USS The Sullivans and the USS Croaker.