Among the over 1,000 veterans’ names chiseled into the gray granite stones of the Golden Belt Veterans Memorial is Roy Fruit Jr. Son of a one-time Great Bend newspaper man, he died in France serving during World War II.
“It was a complete surprise to hear from you and learn that Roy Jr. had been included in your Memorial wall,” said Ann Babcock, a niece of Fruit. “I’m touched to learn that a community member sponsored his name. I have been learning more about the kindness of strangers who are showing their appreciation to veterans. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Babcock reached out to Barton County officials about her uncle at a time when momentum for the vet memorial north of Great Bend has waned some, said Barton County Administrative Secretary Diana Watson, who has worked closely with the project for a decade. “Our vet project is slipping. There was very little action all last year.”
The memorial, located in the county-operated Golden Belt Memorial Park, 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 residency and an honorable discharge from the military. The veteran can be living or deceased, and active-duty service members are also eligible.
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.
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, 79 lines remain.
At $45 per line, 540 (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.
A short biography
Fruit knew this area, since his father worked for the Great Bend Tribune, Babcock said. The family moved here from Garden City and lived here from 1933-1943 when them moved to Raymond, Washington.
According to her, Fruit was born in Dec. 19, 1919, in Haskell, Oklahoma, where his father (Babcock’s grandfather) 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.
“All the moves were caused by tough economic times and a father trying to support his family,” Babcock said. Except for one attempt at owning a store, the employment was with newspapers.
“Roy Jr. was working at his paper when he was inducted into the Army,” she said. After he left, the Fruits moved to Washington where Roy Sr. bought a paper.
“The plan was for Roy Jr. to work there with his father after the war.” However, Fruit died on a French battlefield on June 14, 1944, and is buried in an American cemetery in France.
“He sold the paper after Roy Jr.’s death,” Babcock said.
Fruit died before Babcock was born. “I don’t have personal stories about my uncle, but he was spoken of often, and missed. His death left a hole in the family.”
Babcock now resides in Palm Coast, Florida, with her husband Ben and has become something of a family historian.