The rattling of jackhammers rang through the icy Monday morning air around Town Square, where already before 9 a.m. tourists posed beneath the antler arches.
Their photos will be the last of perhaps millions to feature — small and inconspicuous in the background — the stone column and bronze plaques that have served as Jackson’s centerpiece for nearly half a century.
The veteran’s monument, built in 1976, may not be as iconic as the world-famous arches. But for those with a deep connection its final day was cause to reminisce, as American Legion Post 43 moves ahead with erecting a new one in its place.
A handful of veterans and their families gathered around as workers circled, breaking apart the stone bit by bit and shoveling the rubble into wheelbarrows.
The star of the event was Allen Raver, a 93-year-old Marine Corps veteran who has lived in Jackson for five decades. He served for two years, fighting in the historic battles of Okinawa, Tinian and Saipan, and was wounded and discharged at age 19, having earned a Purple Heart.
“Should we give Allen a hammer?” joked Legion member Donald Perkins, turning to a chuckling Raver. “You want to beat on it?”
The workers peeled off a heavy plaque and hefted it into place before him for a photo. But for some reason, it doesn’t include his name. And besides Raver, post Commander Greg McCoy said, the current monument is missing some 100 others, which is what prompted the Legion to update it. They’ll add those neglected names and leave space for those from future conflicts.
But as with many historical sites in recent years, plans for the new monument have generated their share of controversy. Many have argued the design — an eight-paneled work of black granite with etched names and iconic images from each war — is inappropriate for the Town Square.
The Public Art Task Force and some elected officials opposed including photographs. Noting that the monument’s purpose is to celebrate veterans, not war, they argue it needs only those veterans’ names.
The Legion insisted the photos help viewers understand what they’re seeing, and others feel the most important thing is simply to ensure the new one recognizes all Jackson Hole veterans.
Jeff Raver, who attended the demolition with his father, looks forward to the renovation.
“I think it’s going to be awesome,” he said. “Our military needs to be honored.”
Inside the rock, a time capsule waited years to be uncovered, and the American Legion will wait to open it until its next meeting. The Legion will hold on to the old plaques until it’s decided what to do with them. The bucking bronc and cowboy statue atop it will be adorn the new monument.
The rest of the decades-old original has been reduced to debris. But in the eyes of the right person, even these scraps still hold meaning.
Gene McCreight, a Jackson-raised Army veteran who has since moved to Kansas, happened to be visiting on the day the monument came down and stopped by to pay his respects one last time.
“You never come back to Jackson without coming to see it,” he said, gazing at the soon-to-fall pillar. Suddenly, struck by an idea, he called to McCoy.
“Could I have a piece of the rock?” he asked.
The post commander grabbed one and brought it to him. Pensively, McCreight turned the stone over in his hand.
“We grew up with this,” he said. “It’s a piece of history.”