Under a cloudless sky, a group of citizens gathered at Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park to witness the dedication of the Veteran’s Memorial on Flag Day. A fitting day to observe the sacrifice of our brave and selfless veterans as those warriors all served under that flag.
As people gathered under tents, which provided welcomed shade from the rays of the sun, we looked at the simple memorial that has been constructed. A circular walkway surrounds the grassy area which has two simple stone monuments, the larger having been etched with the image of a soldier’s helmet on the butt of a rifle stuck into the ground resting against the fallen soldier’s boots. At one end of the circle are five flag poles to display the flag of each of the branches of the military. Opposite the circle from those banners is a singular pole which displays the American flag. Five wooden benches surround the memorial allowing for a place to reflect on the sacrifices made by those who fell in battle and those who made it back home.
The memorial will survive for many years and those who shared in the dedication will eventually pass away to enjoy Eternal Rest. The memorial isn’t very grand if compared to memorials at Arlington National Cemetery. However this simple memorial speaks volumes to all of us who will enjoy visiting there to pay homage to those who served. It is as quiet as those heroes are about their exploits. They just don’t talk about their heroic deeds. They will tell you that the heroes are the ones who did not come home. The wind and the birds offer a break of the silence and that silence, or solitude, allows one to simply think and pray for those for whom this memorial is intended to honor.
At the dedication there were a few veterans singled out to sit on the five benches. One was at Pearl Harbor, another fought in the South Pacific at Tarawa, and Iwo Jima, another had helped launch torpedoes against the enemy ships in WWII and his Vietnam veteran son sitting alongside him. Another had served as a “China Marine,” many of whom were captured early on and forced to work in labor prison camps until 1945. There was an Air Force veteran sitting next to that China Marine as they are married. Then there was an empty bench. Albert Weinman had fought at Utah Beach on D-Day and was to be honored, but he died a few weeks ago.
A wreath was laid to honor the dead, Taps was offered and tears flowed and then the release of doves for peace concluded the ceremony. However, the ceremony did not end there for me.
As I wandered about greeting neighbors and friends I was surrounded by veterans of every branch who were enjoying their special bond and regaling one another with stories. Some wore their old uniforms and it was hard to imagine the 60 to 80-year-old men looking like the five in-shape Marines in dress blues who served as the Honor Guard.
The memorial was built by a small group who saw the need and did their duty to get the job done. Money came from private donations which also speaks volumes about this special place. Citizens honoring heroes.
As you drive by Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park on Highway 49 and you see that hallowed ground; reflect on the sacrifice made not just those who built the memorial, but the greater sacrifice by those honored by it.
We are free to do so because they provided the freedom.