'Calling All Of Us To Duty'
November 16, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Ten years can seem like a long time.
But when you are working to raise $3 million from community donors while at the same time designing and building a top-class memorial that represents local veterans, you need every single bit of that decade.
And so it was for veterans Bill Stender and Bob Drolet, who led a group of volunteers that made the Huntsville/Madison County Veterans Memorial a reality.
The impressive memorial, complete with granite markers that include the names of 367 local veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice along with a military war timeline, waterfalls and a water fountain, a Sacrifice statue and giant-size flags overhead in phase one of a two-phase project, was opened to the public Friday on Veterans Day in downtown Huntsville's Veterans Park with a dedication ceremony that drew well over the expected crowd of 500.
"Our veterans have left us with a proven heritage of sacrifice, courage and duty," Drolet told the crowd. "They would not forsake us. Nor will they be forsaken by us."
The ceremony included congratulatory comments from Huntsville mayor Tommy Battle, Madison County Commission chairman Mike Gillespie, Secretary of the Army civilian aide John Rogers, Lt. Gen. Richard Formica of SMDC, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and Rep. Mo Brooks.
Sessions called the memorial "worthy of a great patriotic town" while Brooks read the story of Medal of Honor recipient Paul Bolden and then went on to say "not all of our veterans receive Medals of Honor. But all of them are patriots. All of them are heroes. We salute them with this great memorial dedicated in their honor."
On a "Hooah day" in Huntsville/Madison County, Formica told the crowd that the memorial is "a fitting tribute to our veterans, who are visible reminders in our communities of duty, sacrifice, patriotism and our nation's enduring commitment to its values."
Amid the celebratory atmosphere, Formica said it is a "good day to pause and keep in our thoughts and prayers those serving today" and their families.
The heart of the dedication ceremony belonged to the volunteers who have been the "backbone of this effort," Drolet said. While an emotional Stender needed assistance from his friend Drolet to describe the elements of the memorial, another leading community volunteer -- Max Bennett, president of the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition -- expressed what the memorial means for the community.
Describing it as the "embodiment of the veteran," Bennett told the flag-waving crowd "it is easy to see sacrifice all around us. It is the legacy of every Soldier, sailor, airman and Marine. This memorial is designed to be incomplete. It does not belong to the veterans. It belongs to you."
Bennett said veterans and patriots should use the memorial to teach their children and grandchildren about what is important, and what it means to live the words of President John F. Kennedy -- "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" -- that are inscribed on the memorial.
"This memorial calls us all to serve, not to be served … We must not wait for someone else to serve. We should serve. We must not wait for someone else to volunteer. We must volunteer. We must not wait for someone else to stand up. It is time for us to stand up," Bennett said. "This memorial is calling all of us to duty."