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CSU lab preparing soils for Veterans Plaza

May 19, 2011
By Tony Phifer

Dr. Jim Self, head of CSU's Soil, Water and Plant Testing Lab, has been preparing soils from military sites around the world to include in a flower garden honoring veterans.

Soils tested and treated at CSU will be included in a special garden at the Veterans Plaza in Fort Collins. The plaza, part of Spring Canyon Park, will celebrate its grand opening Sunday, May 29.While working as a visiting professor at Foreign Trade University in Hanoi, Vietnam, Rob Allerheiligen travelled to various sites around the country, collecting soil samples from battlegrounds tied to the Vietnam War.

Allerheiligen, who graduated from Colorado State University in 1967 as a commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, spent only a short time in Vietnam during the war. But collecting soil samples for use in a flower garden at the new Veterans Plaza in Fort Collins was a memorable experience.

“Gathering those soil samples in Vietnam was very emotional for me,” said Allerheiligen, who retired in 2008 after a long career as a professor at CSU’s College of Business. “Just carrying that soil in my suitcase, knowing the connection that so many Americans feel to Vietnam, made me very proud.”

Soils from around the world

Allerheiligen collected samples from nine different sites during his two assignments over the past year teaching at Foreign Trade University. Those samples will be combined with others collected from battlefields, cemeteries and military installations around the world in the flower garden at the Veterans Plaza, which will have its grand opening May 29.

Those soil samples have been analyzed and processed at CSU’s Soil, Water and Plant Testing Lab. Jim Self, who has been lab manager for 26 years, called this one of his more unique projects.

“Usually we analyze soil samples for farmers and homeowners, but this is different,” Self said. “You are working with soil, but it has a different kind of feeling to it. It has a more personal impact on you, with the history associated with the areas where these soil samples were taken.”

CSU lab prepared soils

CSU was chosen to handle the soil samples because it has a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to import soil, and has been doing so for more than 25 years. The soils have to be quarantined and treated to make sure they don’t contain contaminants such as E-coli, salmonella, insect eggs or other invasive micro-organisms.

The Soil, Water and Plant Testing Lab must follow specific procedures to properly treat the soil, burning it for four hours at 550 degrees Celsius.

Self said the project has taken on personal significance for him because his father was a flight surgeon in World War II, spending most of his time in the Pacific Theater, primarily in Guam and Okinawa. He said some of the soil samples – usually collected in plastic sandwich bags – contain letters or brochures talking about the soil’s origin.

“For instance, I worked on one from one of the sites of the Tet Offensive (the event many consider the turning point in the Vietnam War), and that brought back a lot of memories,” he said. “It makes the work much more personal, knowing what happened there and just holding that soil.”

From the Revolutionary War forward

More than 80 samples from around the world have been donated for use in the garden. Soils from U.S. battlefields at Gettysburg, Trenton, N.J., and Little Bighorn are part of the collection, while others have been gathered from locations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iwo Jima, Vietnam and throughout Europe. The garden is meant to honor U.S. military service both home and abroad over the course of the nation’s history.

“This will be a source of great pride and comfort for veterans and their families,” Allerheiligen said.

All veterans and the general public are invited to the grand opening of the Veterans Plaza, set for Sunday, May 29, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The dedication ceremony will be at 11 a.m. at the Plaza, located at Spring Canyon Park in southwest Fort Collins.