For Laura Vanderkruk, organizing volunteers to set up the 3,200 memorial crosses on Memorial Drive to honour Southern Alberta’s veterans has become a way of keeping her family close.

George Bittman, Vanderkruk’s father, was a navy veteran who helped organize the project until his death in 2011. For the past few year’s, Vanderkruk has taken over the project as a way of connecting to the projects, and now her children have gotten involved, as a way of connecting to their mother.

Vanderkruk said her father joined the navy at the age of 19.

“The navy became his home, because he had a really rough childhood and was sort of displaced,” she recalled. “He always felt like they were his first family.”

David Howard, chair of the Field of Crosses Memorial Project, said when the project started seven years ago, they only had 600 crosses on the ground. It’s thanks to families like Vanderkruk’s that the project has expanded so greatly – Howard said every year families of veterans come forward with information about their parents and grandparents that served, asking if a cross can be erected for them as well.

Murray McCann, who originally came up with the idea for the project, said that Canadians owe a great deal to veterans who gave their lives.

“I think you only have to look across the river at this dynamic city where you can be anything you want to be,” he said, standing off Memorial Drive amid the crosses, and pointing across the Bow River to downtown Calgary. “Where you can raise children in freedom. Somebody paid a price, somebody went off to war and didn’t come back, because they loved their children and they loved their freedoms.”

But for living veterans, Howard said respect needs to be paid as well. He pointed out that many veterans today return home with post traumatic stress disorder, which makes it hard for them to find work and drives them into poverty.

“There’s truly no excuse for someone that put their life on the line to be living in poverty. It’s sad,” he said.

Howard said people can help by donating to the Veterans’ Food Drive through

The crosses will be on display until Nov. 11.

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