Barton County Administrative Secretary Diana Watson said she gets tears in her eyes every time she works with Golden Belt Veterans Memorial project. Most recently, it was the story of Roy Fruit Jr., a Great Bend youth and one-time Tribune paper boy and employee who died after storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day during World War II.
Watson stood before the County Commission Monday morning to give a report on the project that has become a mission and passion of hers. They are struggling to fill the last of four granite stones that will contain the engraved names of veterans with county connections, especially in light of COVID-19 last year.
“It’s been a while since I’ve given you an update,” she said. She has worked closely with the county’s Memorial Parks Committee and Road and Bridge Department for about a decade on the effort.
She took the commission back to 2016 when the county, through its Facebook page, asked the public to sponsor memorial engravings for vets who no longer had family in the area. One soldier selected for this campaign was Fruit, the son Great Bend Tribune owner Roy Fruit Sr., who enlisted in the Army to fight in World War II. Private First Class Fruit died on a French battlefield on July 14, 1944.
This makes Wednesday the 77th anniversary of his death.
He is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and his grave is maintained by Jean Marc Lesueur, who has become an email pal with Watson. Fruit’s family recently conducted an internet search for information about Roy, and this also led them to contact Lesueur and ultimately, the County Administrator’s Office.
“Your efforts are appreciated,” Commission Chairman Jim Daily, District 4, said of Watson.
Keeping the project going
Learning that Fruit was included on the County’s memorial, the family donated $250 for future engravings, Watson said.
Now, Watson said, they are hoping to attract enough support to finish stone four.
In 2016, side one of stone four was purchased by the Hoisington VFW 7428 when it closed, and 200 lines were dedicated for to veterans from Hoisington and that area, said County Works Director Darren Williams. To further offset the cost of the stone, another 60 were made available for purchase, and of those, 16 lines remain.
Side two holds another 260 lines. Of those, 77 lines remain, for a total of 93.
The memorial, located in the county-operated Golden Belt Memorial Park north of Great Bend, honors veterans with Barton County ties who have served in all conflicts and in all branches of the military. Qualifications to be included are proof that the veteran was at least at one time a Barton County resident and received an honorable discharge from the military. The veteran can be living or deceased, and active-duty service members are also eligible.
What is the memorial?
It consists of three stones engraved with those names. But, the goal now is to have enough names sold to finish off the fourth stone.
At $45 per line, 540 lines (about 370 veterans) have to be sold before each of the stones can be ordered.
The third stone was set in November 2018 and was dedicated on Veterans Day that year. The second stone was dedicated on Veterans Day in 2016, and the first stone on Veterans Day the year before. But, the project dates back to 2011 when the idea of a memorial was first raised.
The first two stones flank a center obelisk. In addition to the stones, there are flags representing the branches of service, including Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy and Merchant Marines.
The third stone is staggered behind stone one. Number four will be behind number two.
Those wanting to purchase a spot on the memorial or make a donation can bring their payments to the Barton County administration office in room 107 of the courthouse at 1400 Main in Great Bend. For more information call 620-793-1800.
Checks must be made payable to Barton County.
The monument is located at the Golden Belt Memorial Park, 59 NW 50 Road, north of Great Bend.
Golden Belt Memorial Park, along with Hillcrest Memorial Park, are the only two cemeteries owned by the county. Originally privately owned, they were abandoned many years ago and, according to state statute, the county was required to take them over in perpetuity.
They are maintained by the Road and Bridge Department which is advised by the Memorial Parks Committee.
A little about Roy Fruit Jr.
Fruit was in the 2nd Infantry Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge, American Campaign Medal and WW II Victory medal.
Fruit knew this area since his father owned the Great Bend Tribune. The family moved here from Garden City and lived here from 1933-1943 when they moved to Raymond, Wash.
Fruit was born on Dec. 19, 1919, in Haskell, Okla., where his father Roy Fruit Sr. owned a newspaper. They moved around quite a bit through Oklahoma and into Kansas during those difficult years as Roy Sr. followed work as a newsman.
Fruit was working at the Tribune when he was inducted into the Army. After he shipped out, the Fruits moved to Washington where Roy Sr. bought a paper.
The plan was for Roy Jr. to work with his father after the war. His dad sold the paper after Roy Jr.’s death.
According to the Aug. 5, 1944, Great Bend Tribune:
“Roy Fruit Killed – Great Bend Youth Killed in Action in France July 14 – PFC Roy Fruit, jr., an employe (sic) of The Tribune at the time he was inducted into the army in February, 1942, was killed in action in France, July 14, his sister, Mrs. Clarence Coffee, 2805 Twentieth street, was advised in a message from the war department today.
"The message did not state the campaign in which he was engaged at the time he was killed.
“Roy received his initial training at Camp Walters, near Mineral Wells, Tex., and until he was sent overseas, was in training at Camp McCoy, Wisc. At Camp McCoy he was trained as a ski trooper and in connection with this training was sent to Ireland last October where he remained until May when his outfit was transferred to England. He was one of the thousands of Yank soldiers who participated in the invasion of France early last June.
“Surviving him are his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Fruit of Raymond, Wash., who were residents of Great Bend for 10 years prior to removing to Raymond a year ago this month, where Mr. Fruit publishes a weekly newspaper, and three sisters, Mrs. Coffee, Mrs. O. C. (Rilla) Brister, for a number of years cashier at the Woolworth store who is now with her parents in Raymond and Mrs. Bob (Marilyn) Ratliff, who is also in Raymond. Mrs. Brister’s husband is an officer in the army that is now fighting in Guam. Mrs. Ratliff and her husband, who is a trucker at Raymond, became the parents of a son, their second child and second son, only last Monday.
“Roy Fruit was the first of six employes (sic) of The Tribune office to enter the armed services. He was with a group of Barton county inductees that left for Fort Leavenworth the night of February 28, 1942. He was graduated from the high school here in 1937, establishing a reputation as an excellent student during his four years. While attending school, he carried papers for The Tribune and following his graduation he became a full time employe (sic), working in the mail room, helping keep the press in condition and at the time he left for the armed services was learning the printer’s trade, including operating a linotype.
“Roy Fruit, jr., will be remembered by employes (sic) in this office as a youth of quiet disposition, honest, ambitious, a pal to his Dad and ever thoughtful of his Mother for whom he showed his affection through personal gifts and purchases of household effects he felt would make her tasks easier. He always was eager to cooperate and willing to do the tasks assigned to him.”