LEWISTON — Despite dozens of monuments and thousands of names, Joseph Paradis felt something was missing from Veterans Memorial Park.
Every two or three days, the 80-year-old Korean War veteran walks the park on the Lewiston side of the Androscoggin River.
Paradis, a prisoner of war during his service in Korea, thought of the white marble sarcophagus at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia: the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Unidentified remains of soldiers from World War I, World War II and Korea rest inside under constant guard from the Army.
“We never think of the unknown soldier,” Paradis said. “We never remember the unknown soldier.”
He talked with folks from the L&A Veterans Council, who operate the city-owned park, and he looked at his own finances.
“I said to myself, 'Start putting pennies aside,'” Paradis said.
Two and a half years later, his idea is nearly complete.
On Veterans Day, he will unveil a new monument to the unknowns in Veterans Memorial Park.
The engraved granite stone reads: “In memory of the American soldiers known but to God.” It includes a photo of Arlington's tomb.
“I'm smiling,” Paradis said. “It's going to happen.”
For much of the time he was unsure.
He had started his effort in 2008 by checking with the Department of the Army, to make sure there were no rules against such a stone. There were none.
But soon it became a kind a burden. He felt that the unknowns were counting on him in a way. In part, that was due to his own history.
“Paradis was detained by the Chinese Nov. 2, 1950, and was returned to U.S. military control on Nov. 24, 1950, the day after the Battle of Unsan,” said Paul Bernard, who heads the L&A Veterans Council.
The battle was one of the biggest U.S. defeats of the war.
“Seventy-five thousand United Nations and South Korean soldiers were captured by Communist forces,” Bernard said. “More than 60,000 were unaccounted for (mostly Americans, but also British, Turkish, Australian and South Korean POWs). About 12,000 were allowed to go home.”
Paradis is reluctant to talk in detail about his war experiences.
“The past is in the past,” he said Monday. But the POW experience fueled his desire to create the memorial, he said, just as it helped him collect more than 1,000 signatures calling for the creation of the veterans park.
Worry over creating the memorial weighed on him. He often slept poorly. Eventually, he raised the needed $3,000 cost.
“To me, it was a small price for what the unknown soldier did,” he said. “I told myself, 'I'm going to see it through.'”
He believes the new stone will fill what's missing in the park. He has already begun to sleep better, he said.
“To me, the monument brings together the family of soldiers,” he said.