Leesburg commissioners voted Monday night to honor the Korean War veteran who was the driving force behind the creation of Veterans Memorial Park.
At the recommendation of Public Works Director DC Maudlin, commissioners agreed to designate the sidewalk trail at the park, located across from Leesburg City Hall, as “Don Van Beck Memorial Walk,” in honor of the Tavares resident who died last month at the age of 90. A granite marker with a brass plaque designating the walk in Van Beck’s name also will be placed at the park.
Van Beck, who joined the Army at age 17 and served in both World War II and the Korean War, was known throughout the region as a man with a passion for veterans. He was stationed in Japan with the 101st Airborne Division at the end of WW II and later served in the 24th Infantry Division during the Korean War.
Maudlin’s memo points out that Van Beck was responsible for getting the old Fountain Park renamed Veterans Memorial Park. He also provided the vision, energy and funding – more than $500,000 raised by area veterans – for the Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the World War II Memorial.
“Mr. Van Beck loved veterans and worked tirelessly on their behalf,” Maudlin said. “He believed strongly that the monuments he created were community assets and that Veterans Memorial Park drew visitors to downtown Leesburg.”
Maudlin added that Van Beck believed the monuments honored those who served and gave the community a way to thank veterans for their service.
“Today, we have an amazing tribute to our nation’s veterans right here in Leesburg, thanks to Mr. Don Van Beck,” Maudlin said.
Van Beck, who fought for the vintage Huey helicopter that’s on display as part of the tribute to Vietnam veterans, was inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame earlier this year. And he was a past president of Korean War Veterans Post 169, as well as a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Van Beck appeared before commissioners many times over the years. After gaining approval to add the Huey helicopter, he made it known that he’d like to see an Army Jeep, a tank, an A-10 Warthog “Tank Killer,” a Humvee and a small Navy submarine sticking up out of the lake at the park.
Van Beck even went so far as to purchase the Jeep. But commissioners, concerned about upkeep on the equipment, regular maintenance, liability issues and the possibility of vandalism, shut down the idea of adding the Jeep this past July without taking a vote on it.
That didn’t set well with Van Beck, who wanted commissioners to vote so area veterans could see who was for and against the plan to put the vintage military Jeep in the park.
The centerpiece of the park Van Beck championed over the years is a Veterans Memorial Wall engraved with 9,101 names of servicemembers from the tri-county area. The granite memorial, which was dedicated on May 19, 2012 – the same day the name of the park was officially changed – is 60 feet in diameter and 10 feet high. It covers 2,800 square feet and even has an interactive element to help visitors look up veterans’ names on the wall.
The park also includes a monument honoring Korean War veterans that was dedicated on July 26, 2016; a Vietnam Wall with the vintage Huey perched above it that was dedicated on Nov. 11, 2016; and a World War II monument that was dedicated on Nov. 4, 2017. To learn more about the park, click HERE.