Don Swander, President of the Windham Veterans Association, hoped by creating a Veterans Memorial Park at the Windham Veterans Center that the vandalism would stop.

For years, the Veterans Center has been the target of vandalism: rocks thrown through windows, their storage trailer destroyed from constant abuse and their parking lot torn up by skidmarks from vehicular horseplay.

Swander, along with many volunteers and donors, went to painstaking lengths to spruce up the Veterans Center and create a memorial park there in honor of local veterans.

But Sunday night, just weeks after the park’s dedication, Swander found that vandals had struck again. Someone had hacked down two newly planted maple trees at the park, a third tree on the border and cut off the top of a young pine tree near the entrance.

“I’m taking the attack more personally this time because it’s an attack on the memorial,” Swander said. “This is a memorial park built for the veterans.”

Swander has offered a $500 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the vandals.

Windham police officer Jim Cook investigated the recent vandalism, however because of the rain and snow, was unable to collect any evidence.

Lt. David DeGurchy says the Windham police already make routine checks on the Vets Center at night and will continue to do so.

“We’ve always supported the Veterans Center,” DeGruchy said. “They’re a decent group and it’s a shame someone has targeted them with this kind of stuff.”

Unlike broken windows or skidmarks, Swander sees the recent attack as more malicious because the perpetrators took time to cut down the maple trees with what he believes to be a hatchet or a machete. After cutting of the top of the pine tree, the vandals also hacked the top portion into tiny pieces and left it on the ground.

“I don’t want to call them hoodlums, I don’t want to call them criminals,” Swander said of the vandals. “I want to call them terrorists because that’s what they are doing. They are terrorizing the memorial park.”

The three trees were all gifts from Joe Gagne of Roosevelt Gardens. The red maples alone cost around $350 each, Swander said.

Gagne is one of many donors who provided labor and materials to help build the park and spruce up the Veteran’s Center. Boy Scout Gerard Parent landscaped the Veteran’s Center entrance, planting bushes and the young pines, and a workcrew of inmates from the Maine Correctional Center cleared brush to widen access to the Veteran’s Center. Peter Busque donated granite slabs for the memorial, Pleasant River Excavating helped set the granite in place, R.J. Grondin & Sons spread loam for the park and resurfaced the parking lot and access road with gravel.

Swander now fears that those who helped create the park will be wary of investing in the endeavor. And though he is both saddened and discouraged by this “disgrace,” Swander is not going to give up on his vision for the Veteran’s Center and the memorial park.

“It’s a senseless useless shame that this is happening,” Swander said. “But we can’t let this stop us from building our dream.”

Don Swander stands next to a young pine, one of several trees that vandals recently hacked at the Windham Veterans Center.


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