FREDERICKSBURG – There are few things more patriotic than boys playing our national pastime over the summer, sponsored by local American legion posts. Unless of course its selflessness, freedom and giving the ultimate sacrifice to keep the country safe.
Dylan Beard and Austin Beard have devised a unique way to combine the two concepts, and bring all those patriotic pieces together in one place.
Northern Lebanon township brothers and teammates on the Fredericksburg American Legion baseball squad, the Beards have embarked on a mission to honor the late Earl Wenger by erecting a tasteful, but modest monument at the site that Fredericksburg plays its home games – Earl Wenger Memorial Field. The field is named for Wenger, a local young man who gave his life for our country in World War II, but not much mention of his story and life are currently made there.
“I love our country,” said Dylan Beard, an 18-year-old first baseman. “I was always raised to respect the flag, respect our country and respect everyone, but to have an even higher respect for the people who fought for it. Going off to fight a war is one of the most patriotic things you can do. People need to respect our veterans. It’s about America and patriotism.”
“Overall, we just want everyone to know that it’s not just a ball field,” said Austin Beard, a 17-year-old pitcher. “It’s learning about Earl Wenger. To have a plaque in a visible spot, it would let more people know who he was and what he did.”
The way the Beards have it figured, they will need to raise between $5,000 and $7,000 to install an obelisk stone memorial with a plaque honoring Earl Wenger’s service at a prominent place on the grounds of Earl Wenger Memorial Field. The project is still very much in the planning stages, and the Beards haven’t quite figured out exactly how they are going to raise the money, but it could include a ‘go-fund-me’ page on social media, personal donations, fund-raisers and possibly financial assistance from Fredericksburg Post 915, which sponsors the team.
“I envision a bronze plaque with maybe a picture of Mr. Wenger, his life span and a few words about him and why the field was named after him,” said Dylan Beard. “Maybe some stars on it and maybe some red, white and blue flowers around it. Build it somewhere a lot of people come through so they can know why it’s called Earl Wenger Field. I don’t think people know who he is. That’s why we’re trying to get it out there and get him recognized.”
“I want it to look nice,” said Austin Beard. “I want it to be something his family can see and be proud of. I want people to know how important his values are to our legion team, and Dylan and me. We just want to raise awareness. For how many games are played here, I don’t think people know why it’s called ‘Earl Wenger Field’, or understand the meaning behind it.”
Before Memorial Day this year, the Beards had heard of Earl Wenger, but didn’t know the details of his story. On that particular game night, during their father and coach Steve Beard’s address to the Fredericksburg American Legion team, the Beards learned more about him.
There was also a moment of silence in memory of Earl Wenger, before the playing of the National Anthem.
But what really resonated with the Beard brothers was that at the time of Earl Wenger’s death in battle, he wasn’t much older than they are now.
“He was a young man who grew up in the Fredericksburg area,” said Austin Beard. “He was called to war. Fortunately for us, he answered the call. Unfortunately, he lost his life doing it. I’d say he’s a hero. Anyone who would sacrifice their life for our country is a hero. Veterans are people who everyone should look up to.”
“Earl Wenger was 19 years old when he went to Italy during World War II to fight for our country,” said Dylan Beard. “I’m almost 19. He gave his life for our freedom. I couldn’t imagine being in his shoes, fighting for our country and not knowing if you’re ever going to see your family again. I think that’s something that people need to recognize.”
Constructed on land owned by Fredericksburg Post 915 in 1996, Earl Wenger Memorial Field is a baseball complex that not only hosts local American legion and junior legion games, it has also become one of the finest baseball facilities in the area. For scholastic and American legion teams from all over, Earl Wenger Memorial Field has become a destination, during their pursuits of championships.
Over the last 25 years, numerous improvements have been periodically made to enhance Earl Wenger Memorial Field’s facilities. The Beards’ project will certainly stay true to that mission.
“When I first started playing here, I thought of it as just a step down from playing on a major league baseball field,” said Austin Beard. “It’s so grand, especially for people in our age group. You don’t get an opportunity to play on many fields nicer than this. I started playing here when I was 14, and at that time, I couldn’t comprehend Earl Wenger’s whole story. Now, I understand it better.”
“It is known as one of the nicest – if not the nicest – baseball fields around,” said Dylan Beard. “It’s a privilege as a player, to play here. It’s known in the community. It’s a beautiful baseball field. People have come from all around to play here.”
Certainly, accomplished players in their own right, the Beard brothers’ collaborative actions epitomize the importance of American Legion baseball and the impact that it can have on the Lebanon County community. In that way, Dylan Beard and Austin Beard are wise beyond their teenage years, and those actions are being inspired by an example set by Earl Wenger more than 75 years ago.
“Legion baseball is about service as well,” said Dylan Beard. “We want this to be a team project where everyone helps raise money and does the work for it. It’s (the memorial) something that’s going to last a long time. But the end goal is to inspire all legion teams to perform similar acts.”
“You could really feel it when he (Steve Beard) said he (Earl Wenger) was 19 when he died,” said Austin Beard. “It really hit home, but it was hard to understand, partly because it was a different time. Our dad is a retired police officer, and we have tons of respect for people who have served. Our great grandfather also served in World War II, and we have other family members who are veterans. I think by doing this, it will also acknowledge other veterans.”
A small sacrifice to honor the ultimate sacrifice.
To learn more about the Beards’ Earl Wenger Memorial project, or to donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.