Veterans Memorial Plaza

Schmitt Island

City of Dubuque, Iowa
Dubuque, IA
Completion date
May 2021

The Veterans Memorial Plaza was created to honor all Dubuque-area people who have served and sacrificed for their country, community and family. 

Working with the Dubuque Racing Association and its Island Task Force, RDG Planning & Design developed a Placemaking & Implementation Plan designed to enhance the overall riverfront, create a direct connection for users to the Mississippi River and establish a sense of place for the community. 

RDG's design team, which consisted of landscape architects, lighting designers, professional artists and graphic designers, led a four-month planning process that reviewed the existing master plan, received feedback from the task force, developed site-specific concepts, coordinated with the regulating authorities and developed an overall promotional document for the improvements.

The resulting design unifies a series of existing memorials, restores the shoreline edge, integrates new artwork and create places for people to connect.

The bridge at sunset
Landscape Architecture

RDG’s design creates a new memorial mall that is unified through the golden mean, a decorative concrete path that transforms into an elevated boardwalk and extends from the Veterans Memorial Plaza over the pond.

In 2021, the City of Dubuque, Iowa unveiled the renovation of its Veterans Memorial Plaza. Funded by the Dubuque Racing Association, the renovated memorial seeks to honor veterans by unifying and enhancing existing memorials. Located on Chaplain Schmitt Island, it was originally dedicated in 2009 and championed by Dubuque resident, Louis Kartman, a former U.S. Marine; renovation of the plaza began in the spring of 2020.

RDG’s design for the $3.2 million renovation creates a new memorial mall that is unified through the golden mean, a decorative concrete path that transforms into an elevated boardwalk and extends from the Veterans Memorial Plaza over the pond. As part of the renovation, existing components including donor pavers, memorials and the original helicopter installation were temporarily removed and preserved and then reinstalled in the final design.

This project required permitting through multiple state and federal agencies, establishing a structured phasing process (due to budget constraints) and engaging various collaborative partners. 

Integrated Artistry

"Skyward" symbolizes the final moments of Chaplain Schmitt until he lost his own life during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Designed as a contemplative fold giving visitors respite for reflection, the truncated shape frames the last thing Chaplain Schmitt saw on this earth: the sky.

This soaring spiral of steel beckons from the end of a curving footbridge and evokes the final moments of Father Aloysius H. Schmitt, Chaplain in the United States Navy. Chaplain Schmitt gave his life rescuing sailors from the ill-fated USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor. A contemplative refuge, the conical shape coils upon itself, enveloping the visitor with 9 tons of stainless steel pierced with a pattern that suggests falling rain — tears from the heavens. 

Once inside, the guest contemplates the Edward Thomas poem, “Rain” etched into the walls, woven among the descending drops: 

"Blessed are the dead that the rains rain upon:/ 

But here I pray that none whom once I loved/ 

is dying here tonight or lying still awake."

Looking up, the apex embraces the last thing Chaplain Schmitt saw on this earth: the sky. 

At night, Skyward is illuminated from the interior with a beam of light soaring to the heavens. Skyward is 23’ high and 14’ in diameter. It is welded with nine tons of self-supporting laser-cut and rolled stainless steel.


Skyward was conceived as a solemn tribute to all veterans calling Dubuque, Iowa their home. Sited as the pinnacle element, the piece culminates the journey along the memorial pathway with an invitation to enter the stainless steel coil. 

While honoring Chaplain Schmitt, Skyward honors the sacrifice of veterans in the service of our country. Placed over water, the installation suggests suspension between earth and sky, and ultimately, the moment between life and death.


Interviewing local veterans, we asked for words to describe the emotions they would want the piece to evoke: Respect, Honor, Sacrifice, Serenity, Gratitude. RDG artists and landscape architects then collaborated on concept development.

2023 Merit Award in Park, Recreation & Open Space Design
ASLA Central States
Design Award
ASLA Iowa Chapter
Honor — Design Built
ASLA Iowa Chapter
Excellence in Concrete Award
Iowa Better Concrete Conference