Redstone commander Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers shares word of support for the Veterans Memorial that will be built in downtown Huntsville in Veterans Park. Behind him are community leaders Bill Stender, standing, and John Perry. The ribbon cutting for the memorial is set for Veterans Day 2011.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Dec. 7 - Pearl Harbor Day - will now be known in Huntsville for a milestone that brings Madison County's veterans closer to a place of honor within the community.

With congratulatory words from local leaders and a turn of the shovel, the 69th anniversary of the beginning of World War II also became the date to break ground for the long-awaited Veterans Memorial in downtown Huntsville's Veterans Park.

Heralded as a meeting place for all veterans and an educational experience for the young, the memorial will stand as a reminder of the sacrifices Madison County veterans have made to defend freedom. It is designed to recognize those veterans who gave their lives in military service and Madison County's recipients of the Medal of Honor as well as inspire a sense of pride and respect for all veterans, and educate visitors, especially young people, of the sacrifices of the nation's military.

"What a great memorial. It shows this community embraces its veterans wholeheartedly ... It recognizes veterans from all services and what they've done for this nation," Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, commander of the Aviation and Missile Command and Redstone Arsenal, told the audience of veterans and supporters who gathered for the groundbreaking on a cold, but sunny day.

While the memorial has a local focus, it is testimony to all veterans and those serving today that Huntsville honors the nation's veterans, Rogers said, mentioning the young Soldiers of the 59th Ordnance Brigade who marched by the site during this year's Veterans Day Parade.

"Those Soldiers will be veterans, too," he said. "And they can come back some day and see this memorial, and realize and recognize they are part of it ... and that every veteran is precious to us."

Efforts to build the memorial began 10 years ago with local veterans and community leaders Bill Stender, Grayson Tate and Jim Rountree. The threesome began their efforts after a Korean War anniversary event that lacked a proper memorial as a backdrop to the veteran gathering. Since then, the idea for the memorial has solidified, about two-thirds of the $3 million needed has been raised and an architectural drawing has been completed.

The memorial will include the names of 350 Madison County men and women who gave their lives in the nation's service. It will also have a large fountain, flags representing all branches of service, a reflective pool and bronze statues representing "Courage," "Sacrifice" and "Duty."

"This memorial is recognizing the courage, sacrifice and duty of all veterans of all wars of this U.S.," Stender, chairman of the Huntsville/Madison County Veterans Memorial Foundation, said at the groundbreaking.

"To say that today is exciting is an understatement. But today is not the end. It is yet another beginning. We will soon be starting construction of the memorial ... and it will be a final statement that this community recognizes, respects, appreciates and pays honor to all those who have worn the uniform."

The memorial is set to be dedicated on Veterans Day 2011. Stender recognized several who have worked to make the memorial reality, including John Rogers, Alabama's civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army, who made the first donation to the project.

The City of Huntsville donated the land for Veterans Park and the memorial, located on Monroe Street between the busy on and off ramps for I-565.

"Memorials like this are how we remember those who have served and sacrificed for us," Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. "This community supports our veteran community, and this is our way to remember those who served."

Madison Mayor Paul Finley also joined in with congratulatory remarks, saying the memorial is part of the Tennessee Valley community that honors veterans and is proud of the work Redstone Arsenal employees do to support war fighters.

Madison County Commission Chairman Mike Gillespie pledged the commission's 100 percent support of the project and said the county has committed resources to make it a reality. But he also emphasized that it is volunteers like Stender whose leadership and commitment has kept the memorial project viable for 10 years.

"I can't wait to watch him cut the ribbon ... We'll see you a year from now for the ribbon cutting," Gillespie said of Stender.

There are 37,000 veterans in Madison County, and 65,000 in North Alabama, and each will be honored by the memorial, said John Perry, president of the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition.

"All have a common bond - they wore the uniform of a branch of service ... The bond they share is that they are all young heroes who were trained to take care of his or her brother in uniform. When things get tough, you watch each other's back," Perry said.

Perry said the memorial will be a veteran gathering place and also an educational tool to teach people about the sacrifices of veterans.

Many local veterans congregated before and after the groundbreaking, enjoying the celebratory atmosphere, displays from the Veterans Memorial Museum and the 19th Alabama Regiment, and patriotic music provided by the Army Materiel Command Brass Band Quintet. In the crowd were veteran Bob Mellert and his wife Bonnie, who frequently travel from Scottsboro to be part of Huntsville's military community.

"This is fantastic," Mellert said. "It's good to honor all the veterans in the past and in the future."
Mellert, who is retired from the Air Force and commander of Huntsville Chapter 26 Disabled American Veterans, said it is fitting to have a veterans memorial in Huntsville that will attract veterans and visitors from throughout the region and the nation.

"This is a military town. It's got Redstone Arsenal and a lot of big companies that work for the military. There are a lot of military retirees here," he said. "The support is here for this memorial. Huntsville is the center point of North Alabama for all the activities surrounding those that have served. So many of us have worked for this memorial and we want to see it happen."
World War II veteran Aniceto Bagley hopes the memorial will teach young people about the nation's wars and veterans.

"A lot of people from the newer generation don't realize what the older generation did to make sure they have freedom today," Bagley said. "This is something that will educate them."
During the ceremony, Cathy Anderson, chairperson for the memorial's fund-raising effort, read a list of major donors to the memorial. Local companies and organizations include: Aegis, Air Defense Artillery Assoc., Air and Space Missile Defense Assoc., Association of the U.S. Army (both national and Redstone-Huntsville chapter), Boeing, CAS, DESE, Dynetics, ERC, 1st Commercial Bank, Intergraph, Cratos, Laughlin Funeral Home, Progress Bank, Redstone Federal Credit Union, Sparta, Torch Technologies, Vulcan and Woody Anderson Ford. Large donations have also been accepted from individuals.

The public can make donations through the brick paving campaign by purchasing an engraved brick for $100. The bricks can be purchased through Big Spring Partners, phone 799-2520 or online at

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16