GARNER — Christina Reid will never forget the months she and her children spent missing her husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class David Reid Sr., before he returned from Afghanistan this year.
She hopes a brick engraved with his name in the walkway of the planned Garner Veterans Memorial will help others remember, too.
In a world where so much is temporal, a virtual tribute on an obscure website or an annual Veterans Day parade doesn’t seem to some people an adequate show of a grateful nation’s thanks.
Monuments of brick and mortar – or granite and bronze – may be challenging to build and sometimes costly to maintain, but they still are a favored way to honor veterans living and dead. They serve as touchstones to veterans and family members, as gathering places for tribute events, educational tools and tourist attractions.
“I think people are generally very patriotic by nature,” said Faye Gardner, vice president of the Garner Veterans Memorial and also of the Garner Chamber of Commerce. “There are very few people living today who have not been impacted by a son or daughter, brother or sister, mom or dad who served in the military, and many of those served during a conflict.
“...This is just a public way that we can honor their sacrifice and their service.”
The Garner memorial, to be installed in Lake Benson Park, has been in the works since 2009. It was inspired by the loss of a local Marine, PFC Henry Sanchez, who was killed in Iraq in 2006.
After a memorial service for Sanchez, local leaders began to think of the other veterans in their midst and wondered if they could do something more. The notion of a memorial felt right.
A committee set a budget of $500,000 and settled on a design. The town donated $25,000 and 6,000 square feet inside the park. Wake County kicked in another $50,000. Donations and the sale of commemorative bricks that honor any veteran have brought the balance up to $425,000, close enough for the memorial committee to schedule a groundbreaking for Friday.
A memorial in waiting
Work toward veterans’ memorials isn’t always so smooth.
The N.C. Persian Gulf War Memorial Commission, formed in 1996, also set a fundraising goal of $500,000 for the monument it planned to erect on Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh, the open grassy area between the Legislative and the Archdale buildings. The group started with a $100,000 donation from the government of Kuwait, which gave the money because 40 percent of those who served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield came from military bases here.
The seed money remains, but the state never kicked in any matching funds. The memorial commission hasn’t met for at least five years and some of its members have died. It appears that the only one still pushing for the project is Eric Schneider, who was a new graduate of N.C. State University when he won a competition to design the monument.
Schneider’s plan, which involves bronze columns engraved with the names of North Carolinians who died in the Gulf War and imprinted with images that evoke the region and the time in which the war was fought, is still in his computer. Over the years, he has transferred it to 3D software.
“I think it’s important to have a physical marker,” said Schneider, who now lives in Davidson. “It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but when you have a surface that you can touch, it becomes a point of reference for a bigger conversation.
“If we don’t represent it, it gets lost in history and nobody will really know what this conflict was. These are historical markers, so that a hundred years from now you can see it and ask questions and know what the war was.”
If the Gulf War memorial is ever built, Schneider would like to see memorials to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan follow on the same site.
A question of timing
Timing is a factor in the raising of veterans memorials. The National Park Service, which oversees the placement of monuments on the National Mall in Washington, has a rule that no war can be memorialized there until at least 10 years after it’s officially over. Where such rules don’t exist, complications arise. Move too soon, and feelings may be too raw. Wait too long, and interest – along with fundraising – may lag.
The National World War II Memorial in Washington didn’t open to visitors until 2004, by which time many of those it was intended to honor had died. Groups such as Flight of Honor emerged in recent years to take aging vets to visit the memorial while they could still make the trip.
Since the raising of monuments to soldiers who died in the Civil War, memorials often have been built with private money on public land. As public art, they are subject to review boards and public hearings and sometimes get mired in bureaucracy.
Designers have to decide whether they will honor just the war dead, or all those who fought, and whether to include veterans who served during times of peace. Should a memorial honor service members from a particular town, county, or state, or be more universal? Should it focus on one war, or several?
On the State Capitol grounds in Raleigh are monuments to Confederate soldiers of the Civil War and to the women they left behind. There is a monument that honors veterans of World War I, World War II and Korea. The most recent war commemorated on the grounds is Vietnam.
Wayne Paterson has visited these and hundreds of others across the country. A Civil War buff, he’s more interested in the former battlefields where many of the monuments have been installed than in the plaques and statues. The memorials, he said, often tell only one side of that story.
‘To remind the living’
Paterson, 65, is a Vietnam War veteran and a regular Wednesday volunteer at the N.C. Veterans Park that opened July 4, 2011, in Fayetteville. The park honors all U.S. veterans from all branches of service and conveys the story of the service members’ departure from their communities, their years away in uniform and their return to civilian life.
The best memorials, Paterson believes, teach visitors, especially children, why any man or woman would make such a journey and why the nation should be grateful for it.
“A memorial is in honor of the dead, but it’s there to remind the living,” Paterson said.
Last year, in a ceremony on the edge of its main parade field, Fort Bragg dedicated a monument to its soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s a rough-cut stone with a fire bowl at the top where there burns an eternal flame, like a light in the window, waiting for everyone to come home.
Sgt. David Reid, the soldier who just returned from Afghanistan, doesn’t think it’s too early to honor veterans who have served since 9/11. In fact, he thinks it’s important to do it now, because they’re still fighting while the rest of the country is keeping its appointments, spending time with families, chasing careers.
“What’s the purpose of waiting?” he asked. “They didn’t wait when they were called to deploy.
“There are a lot of people in this country who don’t realize what’s going on, because it doesn’t involve them,” Reid said. “The memorials help people realize what’s happening, that there are people dying almost every day.”