MANKATO — Reconciliation Park and the Veterans’ Memorial Bridge are two memorial sites in Greater Mankato that are hard to miss.
Sites like the Lincoln Park Civil War Monument or the Sibley Park World War I Monument aren’t as much in the public spotlight. In fact, Mankato-area residents might be surprised to know there are at least 14 memorial sites in Mankato and North Mankato, said Anna Thill, president of the Greater Mankato Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).
“My staff were surprised,” Thill said.
That kind of reaction was part of the inspiration behind Vietnam veteran Tom McLaughlin’s idea to create “A Trail for Heroes,” a map to all 14 memorial locations. The back side of the brochure includes photos and descriptions of the sites.
“We took some sites out that the group kind of thought maybe didn’t have quite the significance to the area as some people would think, so there’s actually more,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin has aided in the creation and dedication of various memorial sites in the area, including the Blue Earth and Nicollet Counties Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, the Sibley Park World War I Monument, and the naming of the Veterans’ Memorial Bridge.
“In these projects and some of the other projects I’ve helped out on, I’ve heard people say that it’s nice to have memorials and it’s nice to recognize those who served, but other than them being there, people feel like it’s not really that much of a community asset,” McLaughlin said. “I thought it would be nice to somehow connect all of those memorials.”
Thill, North Mankato Mayor Mark Dehen and Minnesota State University geography professor Cindy Miller were eager to jump on board with the project, McLaughlin said. Miller’s graduate student, Matthew Schmidt, in a class last spring took on the layout project and created a route that would be the most logical to traverse when touring the sites, Thill said. Miller and Thill pulled together all of the photos and text for the site descriptions.
“It’s been quite the collaboration,” Thill said. “I really enjoyed learning of the history of this.”
For example, Thill said, everybody knows there’s a pool at Tourtellotte Park, but fewer people know the story of its namesake. Connecticut-born lawyer John E. Tourtellotte came to Mankato in 1858, and he went on to command the 4th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.
He and his men defended a vital mountain pass during the March to Sea in 1864 in north Georgia. He lost a third of his men in the battle and was seriously wounded himself, but he continued to lead the regiment from an ambulance.
Although Tourtellotte lived in Washington, D.C., after the war, he visited Mankato often and donated $8,000 to the city for a hospital. He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Thill said each site description on the map has an interesting story.
The map will be handed out at 2:30 p.m. today at the dedication of Veterans’ Memorial Place at the foot of the bridge. It also will be available beginning Thursday at the CVB on the second floor of the Verizon Wireless Center. And Thill said a digital copy will be posted on the CVB website.
Thill said the next part of the project will be organizing an event that begins at one memorial in Mankato and goes past all 14, ending in North Mankato. Thill thought a biking event might be appropriate, considering the sites span 12 miles.
Other groups are encouraged to set up charity walks or runs related to the memorial sites, McLaughlin said.
“This will bring these particular sites out front to the general public,” McLaughlin said.
It will also aid in one of Dehen’s main interests in the project: weaving North Mankato and Mankato together. Both cities have a rich history involving veterans, and a collaborative effort such as “A Trail for Heroes” helps educate both area residents and visitors, Dehen said.