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War veteran reflects upon the journey to make Memorial Hill a sacred space in Midway

The Final Salute
Quinn Calder Photography
The Final Salute

A steward of Memorial Hill reflects upon the sacrifices that went into honoring Heber Valley’s military heroes.

Almost daily for 20 years, Terry Edwards made the one-mile pilgrimage up Memorial Hill in his vintage Jeep Commando. His vision for this Midway mecca was to create a sacred place to memorialize local residents who served in the United States military.

Today’s pilgrims hike, bike or drive to the summit. Some are there for the 360-degree view of the Edenic valley framed by Mount Timpanogos. Others seek solace and connection with the past and present. On Monday from 6-8 a.m., many will participate in Memorial Day Murph or Meander, a punishing, free CrossFit workout to honor military heroes.

Terry Edwards in front of his commemorative bench
KPCW | Amber Johnson
Terry Edwards in front of his commemorative bench

The hill rises 200 feet above the valley floor, accessed by a serpentine gravel road with a few memorial benches lining the route. American, service and Utah flags wave skyward at the summit, where a bronze statue, “The Final Salute,” encapsulates a fallen soldier's empty combat boots, helmet and rifle.

The monument’s construction was not by happenstance–it was the collective work of many people who raised funds, built structures, battled vandalism and planted and hand-watered the bristlecone pine trees that will outlive us a thousand years.

Edwards is a Vietnam War vet and calls Memorial Hill a special space. Etched on the black basalt plaques affixed to the memorial’s travertine columns are the names of 2,000 soldiers. Some served as far back as the War of 1812; others wore U.S. military uniforms more recently. 

“Dr. Raymond Green researched all those names from the different wars–it took him 20 or so years," said Edwards. "They raised some money but they couldn't it couldn't get any traction so I saw an ad in the paper in about 1997 or something. They said, ‘Could anybody help us up here?’ So I got a hold of Alvah Kohler and I had some money and that's how I got involved. I built that arch over the gate.”

That arch is the entryway to Memorial Hill with signs that read, “Freedom is not free” and “All give some. Some give all.”

Ballstaedt family

German immigrant Daniel Ballstaedt was one who gave to the beautification of the hill. He has since passed but his son Joseph said he remembers planting hundreds of trees and nurturing them throughout the hot summers with his dad.

“We had an old Volkswagen Square Back with a hitch that we connected a 500-gallon water tank to the back of that car,” he said. “We’d fill it up and then siphon the water out of the tank and run the hoses to the different trees. It took hours to water them all.”

Daniel was born in Herne, Germany in 1909 and his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was four months old. He was a merchant marine who traveled the world and was involved in the clean-up efforts in Germany after World War II. Joseph said he can only imagine the “what ifs” his father must have felt if they had not left Germany.

“He was so proud to be an American and taught each of his children about the many sacrifices that had been made for our freedoms and honoring those who serve. There was something different about his approach to those who laid everything on the line and gave their lives for our country…it was a different, sacred tone.”

Terry Edwards is now 82. There is a bench dedicated in his honor at the summit but he doesn’t like to talk about himself. He instead points to the legacy of those names engraved on the walls and has one wish for everyone who visits.

"I’d like them to show a little reverence as they drive or walk up there," he said. "It's the jewel of Wasatch County; people don't quite understand how beautiful that place is. See the beauty of Mount Timpanogos and the Wasatch Mountains. And to think those young men left to serve and were willing to give up their life for the freedom for those people down below. I would think they would say once in a while, “Thank you, I appreciate them guys.” 

Edwards has been on active duty in the fight for freedom. “I was a combat veteran. I spent 14 months in Vietnam. I was in the bush. I was in the slush patties. I was up in the mountains. I know exactly what freedom means.”

And that definition, as memorialized on the entrance gate to Memorial Hill, is that freedom is not free.

Memorial Hill entrance
Amber Johnson | KPCW
Memorial Hill entrance