Global War on Terrorism memorial dedicated in emotional ceremony at National Infantry Museum
By CHUCK WILLIAMS | The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 17, 2017
Tyler Norager, a 31-year-old former Army infantryman, struggled to find the right words Monday morning.
Now an aircraft engine mechanic in Utah, Norager made the trip to Fort Benning to witness the dedication of the Global War on Terrorism memorial at the National Infantry Museum.
It was personal for Norager. He was here with James Wood, the father of his battle buddy Ryan, who was killed in June 2007 in Iraq.
There are 6,915 names of the fallen on the memorial’s granite markers. Norager, who served three years in the 1st Infantry Divison’s 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, fought alongside 14 of those men. He was in the same company and knew Spc. Ross A. McGinnis, a Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in Iraq in 2006 when he threw himself on a live grenade to save others in his vehicle.
McGinnis is the only soldier whose likeness is captured in one of the nine bronze statues in the memorial.
“He made the ultimate sacrifice for his men and gave his life so others could live,” Norager said of McGinnis.
For Norager and many others, Monday was tough but necessary, a day filled with symbolism as those who spoke and attended the dedication noted time and again.
Gen. John Abizaid, a retired four-star general who was the longest serving commander of the U.S. Central Command and directed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, was a driving force behind the planning and fundraising for the $2 million memorial.
“How fitting that this living memorial is dedicated here at Fort Benning and in the city of Columbus, where for so many years so many of these soldiers have ventured forth to fight our nation’s wars,” Abizaid said. “Some of us have seen the carnage of war and understand how devastating the cost can be. Yet all of us understand that our freedoms are not free and the courage, commitment and dedication are necessary to secure the common good.”
Abizaid asked a profound question Monday during his keynote address at the dedication, which was attended by about 3,000 people, many of them uniformed Fort Benning soldiers.
“What would our country be without such men and women who gave their lives in service to our nation?” the general asked. “All of us can answer in different ways, for we are citizens of a nation that admires diversity of thought, thrives on individual freedoms, that seeks many answers for even the most simple of problems. Yet all of us must admit, except for those who fight for such rights, none of us could expect to enjoy them.”
The detail in the memorial, which is in a plaza on the side of the National Infantry Museum, is what struck many on Monday. It incorporates a piece of the World Trade Center’s north tower.
James Leonard, chief of the Fire Department of New York City, came to Georgia this week for the dedication. He looked past the steel beam and toward the 7-foot bronze sculptures of nine Army infantrymen on patrol.
“I loved seeing that Infantry squad there, and they are larger than life,” Leonard said. “When I saw that, metaphorically, soldiers should be larger than life. That was the first thing, but the second thing was how they were protecting that steel.”
While the firefighter saw the military might, the soldier saw the beam and its significance. Maj. Gen. Eric J. Wesley, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, described it in great detail.
“The beam is fractured, and if you look close up on the beam, the bolts or rods that prior to 9/11 maintained the integrity of those towers are violently bent or sheered,” he said. “It reflects the moment our nation was violated.”
For Rabbi Yonina Creditor, a Navy chaplain who gave the benediction Monday, the beam took on another meaning. She was a college student working in a volunteer ambulance unit at New York City’s Central Park at the time of the attack. She was among those called to respond to the World Trade Center.
Creditor said she looked at that north tower beam with pride.
“But it hurts,” she said. “I lost a lot of friends on that day. And we are going to put that beam out there for everyone to see. It’s a painful symbol. It is a symbol of loss, but it is also a symbol of unity and the incredible impact it had afterward.”
The beam belongs in this memorial, Creditor said.
“It was the catalyst,” she said. “This is the day it started. Without it, it misses the context, especially for the generations that will come afterward.”
Monday was also a painful family reunion. There were 226 Gold Star family members representing 76 fallen service members present for Monday’s dedication.
In the rabbi’s prayer, Creditor was speaking to the Gold Star families.
“I knew who my audience was,” she said. “They get it. If anything, they are the ones who understand because they were left behind. ... Without them, we could be missing a piece. It is like trying to understand the puzzle without the picture.”
The names, nearly 7,000 of them, each told a story.
“Every name, that’s a family — it is not just a name,” said Leonard, the FDNY chief. “It is a person, a life lost, a friend. Each one of those names is probably touching a hundred people, a thousand people. And that is what we can never forget, that they are not just names on a wall. They are individual people who gave all, and it’s our duty to always remember.”
And there is a lot of remembering to be done just off the walkway between the museum and the parade field where change of commands and graduations are held, said retired Lt. Gen. Tom Metz, chairman and chief executive officer of the National Infantry Museum Foundation. On the other side is a replica of the Vietnam memorial wall.
The two in concert are powerful, Metz said.
“Grandparents, parents and their children will walk to that Parade Field with the grandparents’ generation honored on the left and the parents’ generation honored on the right, and the children’s generation learning they will never be forgotten,” Metz said. “As these visitors watch their sons or daughters graduate on that Parade Field ... I believe that their confidence in American will be stronger than ever. Those corners of valorous sacrifice will forever tell its guest, ‘America cares.’”
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