Advocate sees to it that POW/MIA Parkway is ‘complete’

Diane Amoroso and Thomas Bones stand in front of the refurbished POW/MIA Memorial in Dover. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

DOVER — Sitting at a red traffic light on the POW/MIA Parkway at the entrance to the Kent County Recreation Center some 16 months ago, Diane Amoroso couldn’t believe her eyes.

There was a sign at the intersection, but she couldn’t make out what it said because weeds were blocking it.

Then, after she realized that the sign was in honor of the POW/MIA Parkway — the Dover-to-Camden connecting road that opened Sept. 15, 2017 — she noticed there were no U.S., Delaware or POW/MIA flags at the memorial.

Right then and there, she knew she had to do something about it.

“If you could have seen this 16 months ago, I was at this light (in front of the Kent County Parks and Recreation Center), and you couldn’t even see the wall,” Ms. Amoroso said. “It was covered with weeds all over the place. It was just a disaster. I was at this light looking around, and I’m wondering, ‘What does that say?’

“Finally, I figured out what it said, so the next thing in my mind was there’s no American flag. It’s a memorial. How do you have a memorial without an American flag or a POW flag?”

And that’s when her journey began.

Now, more than a year-and-a-half later, Ms. Amoroso, the activity director at Harvest Years Senior Center in Camden, and Thomas Bones, the executive director of the center, have seen to it that an American flag, a POW/MIA flag and a Delaware flag wave high above the roadway sign. Landscaping has taken place at the site, and lights illuminate the flags at night.

“(Diane) came up and gave me this idea (about having flags installed), and I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Mr. Bones said. “This is the right thing to do, and from there, it just started blossoming because I knew I had the right person to be the lead force (Diane). It turned out that (she said), ‘We’re going to get there, we’re going to get there.’ We had our ups and downs and sideways and backwards, but I kept on pushing Diane and we kept pushing ourselves and relied on our (Harvest Ridge) members for support and we made it happen.

“I’m very happy because I know she’s a very passionate board person and I knew she was the right person for the right job.”

Ms. Amoroso first contacted Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, at a Memorial Day service that she hosted and talked to him about her idea.

She also received help from Jody Sweeney, a commissioner for District 5 on Kent County Levy Court, and then got approval of her idea from Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan.

“Government works in slow ways,” Ms. Amoroso said. “There were a lot of hoops I had to jump through, a lot of roadblocks I had to drop down, but we finally got it together.”

Ms. Amoroso had a fundraiser on her own at Harvest Years, Rep. Yearick and other legislators got a bond bill awarded for the project, and Levy Court members got money through the Community Development Fund for the lighting of the flags. It cost nearly $10,000 and a lot of legwork, but she said it was worth every second and every penny.

There were numerous delays, including holidays and the COVID-19 pandemic that has slowed Delaware down since March.

“It took some time, but it was perseverance on my part,” said Ms. Amoroso. “I was like a piranha. Once I got my teeth into it and no matter what people were telling me — you can’t do this or you can’t do that, there’s all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t do this project — and I didn’t listen to any of it because I felt it was important.”

It turned out that there were others who shared her enthusiasm for making the flags at the POW/MIA Parkway a reality. The flags were finally raised Wednesday.

Ms. Amoroso hopes to have an official dedication ceremony Sept. 18, which is POW/MIA Recognition Day.

“Diane and Tom Bones with the Harvest Years Senior Center contacted me 12 months ago about the project,” Rep. Yearick said. “We worked together to engage DelDOT for the landscaping and the Delaware Electric Cooperative to move a transformer box. I contacted our Kent County legislators and asked for commitments from their (Community Transportation) Funds.”

Sens. Colin Bonini, R-Dover; Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna; Dave Lawson, R-Marydel; and Trey Paradee, D-Dover, as well as Reps. William Carson, D-Smyrna; Andria Bennett, D-Dover; Shannon Morris, R-Camden-Wyoming; Bill Bush, D-Dover; and Charles Postles, R-Milford, came together with Rep. Yearick to support the project.

“Kent County Levy Court supported the project with a $2,000 grant,” he said. “We received tremendous support from everyone we asked for help.”

He added: “Diane was a tireless advocate for the project. Her passion and energy shows the very best in people. She is a true asset to our community.”

Commissioner Sweeney said that upon meeting Ms. Amoroso, “her excitement was infectious.”

He said he helped set up a meeting with DelDOT Secretary Cohan to discuss the project and find out what the options were for using electricity at the site. When they were informed that DelDOT could not tap the electric light poles for flag lights, Ms. Amoroso found the solution of solar-powered spotlights.

“Though there were some delays in funding and work, Diane again took to the phones to find a landscaper who would keep the area around the POW/MIA sign neat,” Commissioner Sweeney said. “She never let the project go and never stopped seeking ways to make sure flags were put up that honored those the highway was named after. I am very glad that Diane was at the helm of this project. With so many roadblocks that were put up, I think she is the only one with the tenacity to follow through and find ways to make it happen.

“Nearly every memorial site in America has flags. The POW/MIA highway is one that was missing the three flags that represent America, Delaware and a remembrance of those who never came home. I ride through that intersection every day, and while flags were not something that I ever thought of, now that they are there, I can’t imagine why it never entered my mind in the first place. It just seems right that they are there.”

Dr. Larence Kirby, the director of Delaware Veterans Services, was also impressed with Ms. Amoroso’s commitment.

“I spoke with Ms. Amoroso and felt her passion about placing the flags,” he said. “I feel her zest is unmatched and shows her commitment to honoring those who were incarcerated during conflict and those who never made it back from conflict. Her passion reminds me of the supportive citizens at the airport during my return from Afghanistan, as they fully supported veterans.

“I believe there was such a focus on renaming the exchange (the) POW/MIA Parkway that the Vietnam Veterans of America and other supporters knew additional recognition would follow. Often, we need to initiate a change, then build from there.”

Ms. Amoroso is certainly pleased by the sight of flags in front of the POW/MIA Parkway sign — finally.

“I drove by Wednesday around 11 p.m., and it was spectacular,” she said. “The illumination of the flags showcased the flags against an evening sky. It is a beautiful tribute to our patriots who have never come home.”