The thought of having a war memorial in Fitchburg started in 1968 when it was learned that Robert James Schley, a local 23-year-old corporal in Company M had been killed in Vietnam in 1967. Corporal Schley had been wounded several times and could have returned stateside but decided to remain in Vietnam. He was awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart. At this time it was thought that he was the first and only Fitchburg resident to perish in any war.
After the Fitchburg Club, a community social group, suggested a memorial plaque be placed in the town hall, the town chairman, Bill McKee, Sr. suggested they should think bigger. With the support of Corporal Schley’s parents, Niles and Hazel Schley, plans were developed to have a statue made by Chief Harry Whitehorse, a local artist. Using aluminum, Whitehorse made a stature of a kneeling soldier with the face of Corporal Schley representing the soldier’s weariness from the strain of battle, his sorrow and grief for lost friends and the futility of war.
Community dances and bake sales were held to raise the $3,500 cost of the project. The Gorman family, who owned the property surrounding the old city hall, donated the land for the memorial. Fitchburg purchased the remainder of the 3-acre property to establish a small park that would be known as the Gorman Wayside Veterans Memorial Park. The stone that would be used as the base for the statue was found while developing the Wildwood subdivision from the former Glen Osmundsen farm. The stone was transported by the Hammersley Stone Co. and sandblasted to make it ready for the statue. A plaque was mounted on the stone base which reads “To Honor All Those Who Served in The Armed Forces of the United States, and Especially to Those Residents of the Town of Fitchburg Who Have Given Their Lives in Service To Their Country”. Further investigation identified other Fitchburg residents that had died in war and their names were placed on the plaque. They are Nelson H. Salisbury and William Byrne who had died in the Civil War, Edward Skelly who had died in World War I and V. Jerry Stich who had died in Vietnam along with Robert James Schley. The Fitchburg Historical Society has identified 12 more Fitchburg residents that had died in the Civil War.
The Gorman Wayside Veterans Memorial Park appears to have been completed in 1975. The City of Fitchburg has maintained the tradition of a Memorial Day ceremony in front of the veterans memorial. To see military records of individual Fitchburg military service personnel listed by specific wars, click here.