Undercurrents of pride and patriotism were palpable as deputies from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office posted the colors before a sweltering crowd of supporters under the spring sun.
It was a crowd that Rev. Albert Williams soothed shortly thereafter with a prayer that marked the commencement of a groundbreaking ceremony for the Orange County Veterans Memorial.
“We thank you for this memorial celebration; we thank you for the men and women who, over the years, have given their lives, that we might have a sense of freedom,” he prayed.
The ceremony was held on a parcel of land near the Southern Human Services Center in Chapel Hill that was given by the Orange County Board of Commissioners to the memorial committee.
It took that committee nearly ten years before its members could touch the gold-plated shovels that they plunged into the earth later that day to signify the realization of a community dream.
Danny Hassell, a landscape architect and veteran who collaborated on the design of the planned memorial with David Swanson, revealed that the shape of things to come will be everlasting.
“The first phase is all about the themes of sacrifice and freedom, and that’s why you’ll have a curved stone wall that wraps around the flagpole for public events,” he depicted. “It’s going to have a very emotional feel to it, and all the rest of the projects will happen in phases as well.”
A donation of $5,000 from Evelyn and Larry Marson allowed the committee to start work in earnest on the first phase of the memorial, but additional phases demand additional funds.
Swanson explained that even with a recent donation of $10,000 from UNC Health Care, the construction of the memorial is dependent on the generosity and support of county residents.
“This is not a government project,” he noted. “Orange County was generous enough to offer the land — obviously, it’s a beautiful sight — and from then on, it’s up to the citizens of Orange County.”
The meaning of the memorial is as broad as the multigenerational group of veterans that it represents, but Hassell used the story of his first overseas deployment to show what it means to him.
“I remember what it was like as a child, my dad coming home from Vietnam,” he reminisced. “I remember even more what it was like the day I left for Iraq and my father was there for me, and all my family members, and I came home afterwards safe and sound, but I’ll always miss my dad who died in the middle of my first tour.
“It breaks my heart, but I know that he’d be very, very proud of what we have accomplished as a team, and this is going to be something that this community will love when it’s done.”
Tax-deductible donations to the memorial committee may be made online at orangecountyveteransmemorial.com or by calling American Legion Post Six at 919-442-8130.
Photos by Bruce Rosenbloom/WCHL.