July 04, 2012 12:00 am
American flags adorn the Veterans Memorial Overpass, evoking patriotic pride.
But nearby, cardboard boxes full of copper are scattered across the parking lot of the Veterans Memorial Plaza. Plastic bags entangled in the hillside bushes wave in the breeze, and meticulously sprayed graffiti is visible between some of the military emblems along the plaza’s memorial wall.
For the past year, Tucson veteran Dale Schunke, 73, has taken it upon himself to join forces with Pima County and his American Legion post to try to keep it clean.
Schunke, who served 20 years in the Air Force, ending his service in 1982, first came across the isolated plaza on his daily trike ride along East Aviation Parkway. He sat and looked at the debris scattered about the parking lot.
“It kept sinking in,” he says, realizing how shabby this tribute to veterans looks.
The plaza was built in 2005 along with the overpass, just west of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The plaza’s brickwork, benches and flagpole – which flies no flag – were to be part of a Sun Tran Park and Ride.
But no Sun Tran bus stops there, and the plaza remains an abandoned parking lot.
Schunke, commander and historian in American Legion Post No. 36, says that remembering the service of past veterans is a priority for him. At legion meetings, Schunke announces a monthly cleanup of the plaza. Different people volunteer each time, and even when only a handful come, they still come to get things done, he says.
“We’re very appreciative that someone is putting extra care into this remote memorial,” says Priscilla Cornelio, director of the Pima County Transportation Department.
Now that the county knows about the graffiti, crews will be dispatched to clean it up, Cornelio says.
By Veterans Day, Schunke wants to have an American flag waving high above the plaza, lighted by the existing ground lighting. He wants the graffiti removed and a ceremony, complete with a band playing patriotic music.
He’s trying to raise money for the effort through his legion post, though he has no estimate of how much money he needs. He hopes the plaza will become a place where people can come and pay their respect to veterans.
“This place is a mess,” says Schunke. “It isn’t right, and this place deserves our respect.”