Honoring local veterans at Heritage Park

Hannah Gross, NLJ Correspondent

This concept design, created and presented by Tallgrass Landscape Architecture out of Custer, S.D., shows what the veterans memorial may look like at the proposed Heritage Memorial Park, to be located next to Pinnacle Bank in Newcastle.


Veterans Day is a day the U.S. government has officially set aside to specifically honor those who have served in the military during both war and peacetime, but veterans are deserving of our honor and gratitude every day because we enjoy freedom and safety in the United States each day because of their sacrifices. 

One channel for doing so is through a veterans memorial, and that’s just what local veteran Duke Ottema hopes to see at the proposed Heritage Park near Pinnacle Bank. 

Ottema joined the U.S. Army, serving three years during peacetime, shortly after high school as “one of the most immature” young adults. He said he believes it was one of the best decisions he’s made. He said the military taught him discipline, respect, patriotism and to never run away from a fight.

As someone who knows firsthand the sacrifices people have made, Ottema feels that honoring veterans is very important. 

“To get to know some of these guys — when you personally know someone who gives their life for their country — they deserve to be recognized,” Ottema said. 

And Newcastle is one step closer to getting a new memorial. With the feasibility study completed, the next phase is securing the necessary funding. The whole park project will cost an estimated $3.5 million, according to the study.

“Right now, we’re going after grants,” Ottema said. “We’re taking that next step towards getting the financing and grants.”

The study also notes that the Newcastle Veterans Committee has a nonprofit designation to receive private donations.

The current design plans for the memorial show three pillars, which will light up at night. These pillars will surround a memorial wall, which will contain the names of Newcastle veterans who have died in service.

“I found out a couple nights ago that we can go 45 feet tall with those pillars,” Ottema said. 

A flagpole displaying the American flag, the Wyoming state flag and the POW flag will sit at the center and will be encircled by the six flags representing the six branches of the U.S. armed forces.

There will also be a second memorial wall, but it remains undecided as to what will fill it. Ottema’s idea is to put the names of everyone who has both served in the military and lived in Newcastle at some point.

The concern with that, he said, is having “everyone and their mother” putting in names of people only distantly connected to Newcastle. Other ideas include putting plaques up or even a statue. 

“There’s a thousand things we could do, but nothing is finalized,” Ottema said. 

The idea for the memorial began in August 2019, when Ottema took a road trip through the upper Midwest with his wife, DeAnn. The trip included stops at a memorial in Pierre, South Dakota, and several in southern Minnesota. 

“To me, that was such a life changing moment.  …Why in the heck don’t we have something like that in Newcastle?” Ottema said. “That’s where I had the idea to do it. Upton has an amazing memorial. … We need to do something for our veterans in Newcastle.” 

There are about 600 veterans in the community, and Ottema said that he knows of two local veterans who were drafted during the Vietnam War — one of them receiving two purple hearts within seven months. Another man retired from the U.S. Navy after 24 years of service.

“They live in this community, and you would never know it,” Ottema said, adding that most veterans here aren’t very open about their military experiences. 

He believes this is because the veterans aren’t concerned about receiving recognition because they served out of duty and patriotism. 

“We’re protecting our country. It’s the greatest country in the world. I think it’s an honor for most veterans to protect this part of the world,” Ottema said.

Newcastle already has two veterans memorials — one located at the Weston County courthouse and the other at Greenwood Cemetery, but Ottema wanted to do something more. The problem he ran into was finding a place to put it. 

Expanding the one at the cemetery did not make sense, Ottema said, because he was told by a former engineer that it will eventually have to turn into plot land. 

So when the discussion for Heritage Park began, it presented the perfect opportunity. Ottema, who is also on the Heritage Park committee, said it will probably be a two-year project. The goal is to begin digging in late spring, although it is hard to estimate because bids have not yet been let. 

“Maybe I’m just wishing, but I think it’s going to go,” Ottema said. “We have so much to offer in this community; we just have to do it.”

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