The Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial marked the completion of the final stage of construction Saturday morning with a public re-dedication ceremony.
Local military, city and county leaders and dignitaries, along with hundreds of Vietnam veterans, filled the grass lawn of Lejeune Memorial Gardens near the Camp Johnson Gate to hear inspirational speeches and see the new addition to the memorial.
Narrating the event was Lisa Miller with the City of Jacksonville. She was joined by Pat Walker of the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, who welcomed everyone present and shared a bit of history of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“Sixteen years ago, county Commissioner Larry Fitzpatrick asked my husband and I to dinner,” Walker said. “After we ate, he approached the subject of having a memorial to visit for the Vietnam veterans in Onslow County. We talked and agreed this is something we could do.”
The finished memorial includes an entry wall with symbols for the military services, a walkway and bridge with French design, an extensive glass wall etched with the names of MIA, POW or deceased from the Vietnam War. Surrounding the entry are flags from each state to represent a united effort in the war.
A central fountain has five jets representing each branch of the armed forces that are lit with different colors at night. Capping the fountain is the most recently constructed piece of the memorial, a $900,000 dome inscribed with the unofficial words to ‘Taps.’
“Now, we can finally say to our wonderful Vietnam veterans, your memorial is done,” Walker said. “May you find healing, closure and peace in the solitude of this memorial. This was all for you and may you never be forgotten for the sacrifices you have made.”
The commanding officer of New River Air Station, Col. Timothy Salmon, also was present and he used his time with the microphone to speak about reflection and to honor the efforts of those who worked on completing the memorial.
“This memorial is a spectacular tribute to the 10 million Americans who served during the Vietnam War ...” Salmon said. “This is one of the few memorials to list the 58,229 service men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice fighting the spread of communism. These glass panels that list the names of the fallen are a poignant reminder to the tremendous sacrifice of our Vietnam generation. Here, we can reflect on our past and look confidently to the future.”
Music during the event was handled by the Second Marine Aircraft Wing Brass Quintet. Playing special music was Shelby and Chris Parr, who sang renditions of “Fallen But Not Forgotten” and “The House.”
Handling the guest speaker position was retired Maj. Gen. Ray Smith. Smith addressed the crowd by candidly relating a conversation he had with a former minister of defense in the Soviet Army one night after the pair had a few beverages at the Officer’s Club aboard Camp Lejeune.
“Anytime I want to think about what we did in Vietnam, I remember that conversation,” Smith said. “I believe I was given direct verification from a soldier in-the-know that what we most accomplished in Vietnam was preventing the big war that we all so feared. My main message to Vietnam veterans in the audience, the message which you no longer need, is be proud of what you did. I know you are. You represent America in the best possible ways. As a former long-term resident of this community, I am extremely proud of what’s been done here.”
Two other projects are planned for the memorial — a visitor’s center and a statue of a service member — though there is no timetable for those projects.