What began as a small, therapeutic project to work through his PTSD has blossomed into a sprawling patriotic memorial in Chris Dunham’s backyard.
The 54-year-old Manhattan resident, a retired Army veteran, has transformed his yard into a space honoring soldiers who have served the country.
Along the side of his house, multiple flags commemorating wars and conflicts from World War II to the War on Terrorism and beyond line a stone pathway that leads to a patio. There, Dunham has arranged statues, banners, flower beds, a brick flag etched with the names of veterans, light features and more. Dunham has even crafted several of the features with his own hands.
For the first time, Dunham is hosting a public Memorial Day ceremony at his home, 2015 Timber Creek Drive, at 11 a.m. Monday. Masks will be available for those who need them, and Dunham said guests should be mindful of social distancing.
Part of the ceremony features World War II veteran Jim Sharp, who served during the Battle of the Bulge, as a guest speaker, and a capella singers with the Peace Memorial.
Through the memorial, Dunham said he hopes people, whether they are soldiers, veterans or family members, remember they are not alone in their struggles or grief.
“This is here to show their loved ones aren’t forgotten; they don’t have to be physically here to be in here,” Dunham said, pointing a finger to his chest.
Dunham has taken the message to heart, dedicating his time to working with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts. He said he tries to make sure that he is available to help soldiers and their families however he can and point them to resources.
Dunham served for nearly eight years in the Army and was deployed during the Iraq War. He said he came back a changed man and after eventually seeking help, he was diagnosed with PTSD in 2017.
Shortly after, Dunham began setting up a small memorial at his home to work through the emotions he felt after returning from war.
“I would say my motivation (to undertake this effort) would be the fact that it could have been me that didn’t make it home,” Dunham said. “It could have been my brother or sister, which it was. Part of me feels like I need to do something because I’m here and they’re not. It drives me to work harder on this, and it keeps me away from the negative thoughts.”
Dunham said anyone is welcome to stop by any time to see the memorial as it stands every day, and he hopes it brings the same peace of mind to visitors as it does for him.
“It lets me focus upon what this country is really about,” he said. “It’s about the freedom, it’s about the nation as a whole, it’s about looking out for each other, loving one another and treating your neighbor as family. I’m all about that… and I believe that every morning brings a new beginning.”
Other area entities also will be holding Memorial Day ceremonies.
Provided there is no inclement weather, the American Legion will be holding a service at 9 a.m. at Sunset Cemetery.
The ceremony will be modified out of concern for public health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic, but people can visit Sunrise or Sunset cemeteries at any time to pay respects.
“Keeping everyone safe is our goal,” said Kirk Meyer, First Vice Commander of American Legion Post 17.
It will last 15-20 minutes and include a prayer, volley and traditional playing of “Taps.” Parking will be available on the sides of the road.
VFW Post 1786 will host a ceremony at 11 a.m. at Valley View Memorial Cemetery with Fort Riley's rifle honor team in attendance. The VFW plans to have motorcyclists drive through Dunham's cul-de-sac after the completion of its ceremony.
Though not open to the public to limit mass gatherings, Fort Riley will be streaming its own ceremony at 11:50 a.m. on Facebook.
First Infantry Division officials will give their remarks and place a wreath at the on-post cemetery honoring those who have died while serving in the U.S. armed forces.