Driving east on Lake Avenue one day recently, I glanced to the south just before I got to the foot of the Lake Worth Bridge. I’ve passed Bryant Park more times than I could tell you, but this time I spotted something I’d never noticed. Tucked behind hibiscus bushes and underneath a large tree, were two large rough-hewn stones, one on top of the other.
From the road, the stones looked like they could be a chimney from an old house, oddly preserved near the northern edge of the park.
You know me by now. I turned the car around and stopped.
I walked through the park toward the stones. When I reached them, I was astounded to see they weren’t part of a chimney or just random stones, but a monument. A monument to Finnish War Veterans. Behind my right shoulder was yet another monument with sculpted flying geese soaring off of the top. That one recognized Finnish immigrants.
To the surprise of some, the Lake Worth/Lantana area is the world’s second-largest community of Finns outside of Finland. In an internet posting dated March 2004, June Pelo says, “Finnish is the fourth most widely-spoken minority language in the Lake Worth-Lantana area after Spanish, Creole and Russian” and that “it is possible to get just about any service one needs in Finnish. There are Finnish companies in virtually every sector, from hair salons to funeral homes.”
|Harry Manner, Curator, points out one of the more|
impressive medals at The Price of Freedom Museum
I found the Finnish War Veterans in America and made arrangements to meet Harry Manner at the Finland House on Central Boulevard in Lantana to find out about this monument. We met on a Saturday in May at The Price of Freedom Museum located on the second floor. The little room was filled with Finnish and American military memorabilia. Manner is the curator. He began collecting medals and uniforms, carved wooden knives, films, literature and documents decades ago. When he moved to Boynton Beach, Finns in the area helped pay to bring the collection south. According to Manner, the museum houses the largest collection of Finnish medals outside the country of Finland.
|Harry Manner, Mirja Silvan and Hans Nyholm|
Also meeting with me were the Chairman of the group, Hans Nyholm, and the Secretary, Mirja Silvan. All three are intensely proud of their countrymen who managed to hold off the Soviets in the Winter War in the 1940s. The Finns were severely outnumbered, but because of their skill at winter warfare, as well as excellent military leadership starting at the top with Field Marshal Baron C.G.E. Mannerheim and the determination, tenacity and bravery of the Finnish people, the Soviets did not succeed. The Finns simply refused to let the Soviets march in like they were attempting to do all over Europe.
So, what does all of this have to do with two stones in Bryant Park? It seems in 1992, the Finns in this area decided it was time for a monument in the United States for their war veterans. You see, the Finns didn’t just stand up to the Soviets in their own country, but thousands of them emigrated and joined the armed services in other countries, including the United States and Canada. Their skills in winter warfare were unparalleled and Finnish training officers were highly sought to teach those skills to servicemen in other countries. Finns fought for the United States in Vietnam, too.
By 1995, funds were finally raised to bring a stone over from Finland. The stone that now stands pointing up to the sky in Lake Worth was originally in a field outside of Salpa Linja. It was part of a defensive line of stones that ringed the town and kept Soviet tanks from wreaking havoc on Salpa Linja. Manning says most of the ring, and the tunnels that were part of the defensive system, are still there and they have become tourist destinations.
There are no tunnels near the stone in Bryant Park. But stop by sometime. Sit in the grass and think about what that stone represents–fierce pride, tremendous bravery in the face of incredible odds, and a generous, indomitable spirit that traveled across the sea to America with men who understood the price of freedom. Better yet, make a point of joining the Finns at their annual memorial service held on March 13 to mark the end of the Winter War in Finland and honor veterans.
As I was leaving the museum, I asked Manner what one thing he would like people to know about Finns. He said, “Finland is always willing to defend its freedom.”
There’s more to this story than will fit in this column. The Finland House and the Price of Freedom Museum at 301 W. Central Boulevard in Lantana are open by appointment only during the summer, but have regular hours in the winter. Please feel free to contact me and I’ll put you in touch with Harry Manner. It’s a tour you’ll never forget.
Copyright 2012 Ruth Hartman BergeThis article was first published by Seabreeze Publications, Inc. as the June, 2012 issue of The Florida You Don't Know.