About 500 people braved a cold, crisp wind to attend the dedication ceremony for the Tribute to Veterans Memorial monument Nov. 4.
The project, organized by a group of residents, has spanned nearly a decade for researching, planning, designing and fundraising.
The memorial features flags, benches, lighting, memorialized pavers and landscaping.
It was a bittersweet day for local veterans, including Don Miller, who served in the Navy.
“We wanted to come out and see the dedication,” said Miller. “This is amazing. I’d compare it to something you’d see in Washington, D.C. There’s been a lot of effort and money put into this from all the people involved.”
Miller was among those who contributed, purchasing one of the 1,010 pavers that sold for $100 each as part of a rigorous community effort to make the project a reality.
“I’ve got a paver up there for myself and my two sons, who were also in the Navy,” said Miller, who plans to purchase additional bricks for his grandfather, who served in World War I, and father and uncle, who served in World War II.
Wendell Webb, commandant of the National Marine Corps League, remembers the challenges the memorial organization faced along its journey, including a site change just last year. He believes the decision to move from a location on South Highway 47 to a much higher traffic area on Veterans Memorial Parkway, visible from Interstate 70, was paramount.
“I think with it being along the Purple Heart Trail, this is something Warren County can share with the rest of America as they drive along,” said Webb.
Webb, along with Tribute to Veterans Memorial President Rick Manitone, talked about the resilience and determination of the group, as it attempted to sell an idea to the community.
“This was a concept, and people kept hearing things about it, but I think a lot of them just didn’t know if it would happen,” said Webb. “They didn’t have total confidence. Now that it’s built and dedicated, they’re overwhelmed by what it represents.”
There are several features to the monument, including flags to represent each branch of the Armed Services. The statue of a widow and a young boy at the center of the monument “honors Gold Star families who carry on warrior’s dreams without their loved ones,” according to Webb.
Additionally, there are 72 names of soldiers from Warren County who lost their lives in service on a coming granite wall that declares “Some Gave All.”
“To see it come to an end and the site how it is now, it’s amazing,” said Webb. “The people who have stopped during the construction process have been from all over. Many of them were moved by what it represents.”
Also sharing with the audience on Sunday was keynote speaker Brig. Gen. Christopher J. Knapp of the United States Air Force.
Gary Ruebling opened the ceremony, with members of the Washington High School Navy JROTC presenting the colors.
The Community Choir was on hand to perform selections of “America the Beautiful,” “Mansion of the Lord,” along with “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Father Joseph Weber, retired chaplain of the United States Air Force, provided the invocation.
While it was an emotional day that included some closure for Webb, he says it does not mean the organization’s work is done.
“We can promise the community there will be another set of pavers,” said Webb. “We’ve had so much response. There are also some things we didn’t get done on the first design that I would like to change.”
Webb says now those who were originally hesitant about contributing have visual evidence to believe in what was long merely a concept and design.