LENA, Ill. (WTVO) — Over the last several years, a local veterans group has been working on an ambitious program. They want to create an aerial combat memorial in the village of Lena.
We’ve covered the long list of challenges they’ve faced. We caught up with organizers who say their dream is nearing reality.
“It’s taking a little longer than we initially thought it might,” said Robert “Bing” Wells, the VP of the NW IL F-4 Jet Memorial Project.
For more than three years, a group of veterans in Lena have been working tirelessly to turn their vision for a Northwest Illinois Aerial Combat Memorial into a reality.
The planned monument will be placed across from the village’s American Legion Hall and be centered around an F-4 Phantom Jet.
“It’s a piece of history. Our slogan is ‘To honor, to educate, and to inspire’, and this plane and ones like it are history,” said Wells. “One of the gentlemen in our committee flew in F-4’s. Several of us worked on them. And to the committee, it’s a labor of love.”
The plane was initially transported 1,300 miles from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to Lena back in January of 2019. Since then, it’s been getting prepped for display.
“For example, securing the flight control surfaces so that nothing moves when we get ready to put the jet into place. There’s a lot of inlets and intakes that quite honestly have to be sealed up to keep the birds out,” Wells explained.
VP Wells tells us the community members have donated both time and talent to the restoration. For example, a local mechanic has been helping seal the jet while a Lena autobody shop is set to provide a new paint job, free of charge.
“We can see that there’s been work going on, and it’s all volunteer work,” Wells added. “It’s a little like your life coming full circle, to be working on something again that you worked on when you 19, 20, 21.”
The ongoing challenge to push the memorial across the finish line is fundraising. Wells says project leaders are selling engraved paver bricks to be displayed at the monument to try and come up with some of the money they still need. So far, over 100 bricks have been purchased.
“After the COVID slowdown, we have seen donations pick up, which we’re happy about,” said Wells.
Wells is hopeful that with more money coming in, construction can move quickly for the pylon the jet will sit on. He believes the jet could be installed at its final location as early as this fall.
“If not, we will stick with it, until we get it done,” Wells explained. “To see it finally in place, I’m sure there will be hugs all around.”
Find out how to support the project by visiting the project’s Facebook page.