A new World War I memorial will soon be installed in downtown Pilot Point after the City Council approved a proposal Monday night to mount 6,000 dog-tag replicas on The Gazebo on The Square.
The year-long project to create replicas of the dog tags worn by soldiers who served in WWI is set to be completed in time for the centennial of the U.S. entrance into the war, which killed or injured nearly 40 million people.
Pilot Point business owner Bob Albrecht has led the effort since its inception. He said the idea came to him when he noticed memorials for veterans of other wars but not the Great War. He set out to recognize those from North Texas and Oklahoma who served.
“World War II and forward is covered on The Square,” Albrecht said. “We thought we wanted to do something, but we didn’t want to ask for money. I had one of my grandfather’s dog tags, and they were just hand-stamped disks.”
Albrecht found some antique stamping kits on Ebay from the turn of the century, identical to what was used to stamp original tags. He then found that circular tree tags were similar in size and would work as replicas.
He and volunteers got to work stamping each one inside Albrecht’s downtown business, Lowbrow’s Beer and Wine Garden.
One of the volunteers on the project, Tori Fowler, told the council that the installation would be unique to Pilot Point and have an impact on Americans beyond the city.
“Basically, we would put Pilot Point on the map,” Fowler said. “We would be the only town in Texas or Oklahoma that has a World War I memorial to honor all of the fallen soldiers, and we’ve done it all by hand the exact way that they did.
“I believe in my heart that people are going to drive to see this.”
Albrecht said the volunteers had compiled the only complete alphabetized list of WWI veterans from the area. Descendants of veterans who fought in the war still live in Pilot Point, and the memorial would give them a chance to discover ancestors who fought, he said.
The tags will be suspended above the railing of The Gazebo. Visitors will be able to slide and handle the tags. The names are alphabetized to allow residents to search for relatives who served.
Mayor Shea Dane-Patterson asked about the possibility of vandalism.
“What’s going to secure them? What if I want to walk up to them with my wire cutters, cut the wire and they all fall down?” Dane-Patterson said. “I want to talk about the safety side of it, the security side of it, because I don’t want all of your hard work to be for naught.”
Albrecht said that is a risk he is willing to take. The tags can be installed in a way that will balance security with accessibility, he said. The idea, he said, is to create an exhibit that is more public than one on display in a museum.
“I thought it’d be nice if the average adult could reach it and see it and read it,” Albrecht said.
Council member C.J. Hilliard said it was important to ensure The Gazebo isn’t damaged in the installation. If done properly, the exhibit would enhance the structure, she said.
“I like the idea of having it to where they can touch it,” Hilliard said. “I think that’s very neat that it gives some dimension and it moves and it makes noise. I think that’s a great idea.
“I love that it’s tangible. There’s something they get to relate to.”
The council voted to approve the request on the condition that project volunteers coordinate with city staff on the installation.
“I think the spirit of this is good,” said council member Jim Porter, who had family members who served in World War I.
“We believe in what you’re doing and wish it had been the world war that ceased all other wars.”