MERRILL - In the upper-right corner of a concrete slab, LeRoy Fischer looks with pride and awe at his name etched in stone next to family and friends.
"I never thought it would get this big," Fischer said.
Nearly 1,000 paver stones with names of veterans from all across Lincoln County form the basis of a memorial in St. Francis' section of Merrill's Memorial Cemetery dedicated to anyone who served.
"We're all one and united," Fischer said of all veterans, whether they served in wartime or not.
The idea for the memorial in the cemetery started in 2011 with a cannon. Fischer, who served in the U.S. Army in the early 1960s, wanted to place the century-old gun in the cemetery. Father Michael McLain suggested he do more and build an entire veterans section.
"I said to him, 'Do you realize how much it's going to cost to do that?'" Fischer recalled. "And he said, 'You've got a lot of friends.'"
Father McLain donated the space for hundreds of graves while Fischer -- who's known around town for his barbershop -- started fundraising. Fischer linked up with fellow veteran Steve Sabatke to sell and carve the veterans stones. Those sales helped pave the way for the memorial and upkeep of the grave sites.
"This is just one of the ways in which the church can reach out to people," Father Chris Kemp said.
Father Kemp took over St. Francis and the responsibility for maintaining the cemetery when McLain died in 2015. Kemp knows what Fischer helped create brings people to the cemetery to grieve or simply reflect.
"Some of them will look at the names on the stones and some of them will walk around at the grave markers... Just helps out people in that way," Kemp said.
But it's one marker in particular: Army veteran Michael Zuelsdorff's which brings Fischer to the cemetery regularly.
"Yeah, it hurts," Fischer said, pausing to collect himself.
Zuelsdorff, who is Fischer's grandson, committed suicide in 2012 after struggling with PTSD following tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Zuelsdorff's grave was the first one placed in Fischer's new veterans section.
"I feel I've done my job to help get it going and now... It is something that will probably be remembered for years," Fischer said.
For now, there is room for many more veterans to rest alongside his grandson. There are about 780 spaces for veterans and their spouses when cremation sites are included. The church says it will expand as needed.
Sabatke tells Newswatch 12 he's looking for someone to map out where each name is on the engraved stones at the memorial.