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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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VETERANS' MEMORIAL PLAZA. On November 11, 2009 after three years of planning and fund-raising, the Veterans Memorial Plaza on CHAPLAIN SCHMITT ISLAND was formally dedicated with an audience of more than 1,500 people. (1)

The idea of the plaza was first proposed by Louis E. "Louie" KARTMAN, a Dubuque KOREAN CONFLICT veteran after seeing a similar monument in Park Rapids, Minnesota. Ground was “officially” broken on the Veterans Memorial Plaza at approximately 3:33 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007. Dubuque Mayor Roy D. BUOL gave the keynote address at the ground breaking, telling those present that the City of Dubuque was a proud partner in a project that recognizes the contributions and sacrifices of our veterans. “We extend our appreciation to the veterans who initiated the project; who brought the plan to the city council’s attention, and through whose commitment this vision became a reality.” (2)

Just a little over two years from the ground breaking, the dream became a reality. The memorial recognized thirteen conflicts involving Americans, from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan. The monument included a curved wall dedicated to the five branches of service with their flags, bracketing an American flag with a POW/MIA banner below it. In the center was a six-ton granite globe, five feet in diameter. Recipients of some of the nation's highest medals were remembered in the WALK OF HONOR. (3)

Over $500,000 was raised from paver sales, sponsorships, grants and donations for the first phase. The ribbon was cut on Veterans Day, November 11, 2009. Close to 2,500 attended the opening of the memorial with representation at the ribbon cutting from federal, state, county and local government as well as many veterans groups on interested citizens. The project would not have been possible without all of the support. Veterans' Memorial Plaza has a non-profit 501(c)(3) status, and operates with a board of directors. (4)

Raising the American flag during the ceremony was Daniel Henry HEFEL who survived 1,143 days of captivity during the VIETNAM WAR. (5)

In 2018 leaders of the DUBUQUE RACING ASSOCIATION revealed intentions to begin a $3.4 million investment in the Plaza and the surrounding area to revitalize Chaplain Schmitt Island. The plan also had to be approved by the Dubuque City Council and the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. Included in the proposal were new walkways and trails, a water feature, enhanced lighting and a sculpture entitled "Skyward" to honor the final moments in the life of Chaplain Aloysius SCHMITT. The focus on improvements to the island began around 2016. A majority of the funding would come from the DRA out of its future fund and grant pool over a decade. (6)

Photo courtesy: KWWL

In September, 2020 workers installed "Skyward," a memorial sculpture on designed by Doug Adamson, a landscape architect with RDG Planning and Design. Standing 24 feet tall and weighing 18,000 pounds, the stainless-steel spiraling sculpture was placed on a pier. Once completed in May, visitors would be able to walk inside the sculpture and read the engraved lines of the poem "Rain" by Edward Thomas, a WORLD WAR I officer. The poem focuses on the sacrifice of human life in war. The incisions in the sides of the sculpture represent the rain mentioned in the poem. The hollow sculpture was also meant to commemorate the heroic actions of Chaplain Aloysius SCHMITT who was credited with saving the lives of twelve sailor aboard the sinking USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor during WORLD WAR II. Looking upward, visitors could observe the sky--the last thing Chaplain Schmitt as he helped the sailors to safety. The project was entire funded by the DUBUQUE RACING ASSOCIATION. (7)

Photo courtesy: David Kettering and the Telegraph Herald

The completion of the $3.2 million transformation of the veterans memorial was scheduled to be celebrated on Memorial Day, 2021. Funds for maintenance of the memorial in perpetuity were set aside by the DUBUQUE RACING ASSOCIATION which funded the Veterans Memorial Plaza Project. (8)



1. Veterans' Memorial Plaza. Online: http://www.vetsmemorialplaza.org/aboutus.html

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Montgomery, Jeff, "DRA Plans Investment in Veterans' Plaza," Telegraph Herald, August 19, 2018, p. 1A

7. Kruse, John, "Vets Plaza Sculpture Arrives," Telegraph Herald, September 24, 2020, p. 1A

8. Hogstrom, Erik, "Plaza Re-Dedication Caps Holiday," Telegraph Herald, May 25, 2021, p. 1A