Veterans upset by theft from W. Richland memorial

WEST RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) - Veterans in West Richland are upset about the theft of an M-16 rifle and a helmet from a war memorial.
   
The Tri-City Herald reports boots and a plaque are all that remain of the memorial at Flat Top Park in West Richland.
   
The rifle and helmet had been perched on top of the memorial for more than 12 years. Veteran Dan Richey lives nearby and was the first to notice the missing items as well as damage to what remained.
    
Richey reported the vandalism to police. West Richland police are investigating the theft.
    
"I'm appalled and dismayed," he said. "I can't believe we have individuals in our neighborhood who would do such a thing."
    
Bobby Dale Albers of Kennewick, sergeant at arms for Combat Veterans International Chapter 3, says the theft and damage go beyond vandalism to disrespect.
    
"It's just cruel, and I don't know if there's a word I can use," he said.
    
The memorial, which was dedicated Nov. 10, 2001, had an inverted rifle placed in the ground by its bayonet, with a real World War II helmet attached to the top of the rifle. With the boots, the sculpture resembled a temporary grave marker for a fallen soldier.
    
The plaque contains the inscription, "Freedom is not Free."
    
To Joe Winters, a member of American Legion Post 34 in Pasco, the vandalism is a hate crime. "That kind of damage, it's hard to believe kids would do something like that, but you never know," he said.
    
It reminds the veterans who spoke to the Herald about the damage done in 2004 to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial near the cable bridge in Kennewick, they said.
    
Darvin Eugene Grigg admitted to driving his Oldsmobile Cutlass three times into the memorial at the base of the cable bridge. The monument's granite marker, which was inscribed with the names of 61 Mid-Columbians killed in the Vietnam War, was damaged beyond repair. Its fencing and flag pole were also damaged.
    
Grigg pleaded guilty in Benton County Superior Court to a reduced charge of third-degree malicious mischief, a misdemeanor. He served 104 days in jail.
    
"We got him, and we're going to get this guy," Albers said of the person who damaged the West Richland memorial.
    
Flat Top Park is important to veterans because it is the site of the annual Time of Remembrance ceremony, which honors service members from Washington, Oregon and Idaho who died overseas, Richey said.
    
Combat veterans want to repair or replace the damaged monument, Richey said. They might design it to be more resistant to vandals.