FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — The U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School unveiled a new brick walkway and sculpture during a dedication ceremony held Monday at Fort Leonard Wood’s Chemical Memorial Grove.
“This is the most significant improvement that we have ever had to our memorial grove, and has been a long time coming,” said guest speaker retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, who served as the 24th Chief of Chemical and Commandant of the USACBRNS from 2006 to 2008.
Throughout the grove, which serves as a place to honor fallen chemical Soldiers and Gold Star Families and to inspire service to current and future generations, the new brick walkway consists of more than 1,800 donated bricks bearing the names of all recorded Chemical Corps Soldiers who have given their lives in combat during conflicts dating back to World War I.
The new sculpture features a set of crossed retorts — the Chemical Corps insignia — and sits atop two columns that were placed near the entrance of the memorial.
Inside the sculpture is a time capsule holding items selected by current leaders from USACBRNS and the 3rd Chemical Brigade. The capsule is scheduled to be opened on the 150th anniversary of the Chemical Corps in 2068, according to CBRNS Operations Officer Russ Gehrlein.
The purpose of both additions is to tell the story of the fallen to future generations, he said.
While the reasons for serving in the military differ from person to person, there is a universal understanding that service means sacrifice, up to and including one’s life, USACBRNS Commandant Col. Sean Crockett said at the ceremony.
“There is no greater sacrifice than to offer one’s life for the greater good,” he said. “The impact of this ultimate sacrifice ripples through our communities and touches more than just the lives of their loved ones and friends. When their stories are shared in our neighborhoods, our homes, our schools, and our places of worship, these men and women become a part of the collective identity of our hometowns.”
To make the ceremony more special, family members of Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, who was killed in action on Oct. 4, 2017, in Niger, while attached to the 3rd Special Forces Group, and Master Sgt. Hugh Whitacre, who died Nov. 26, 1950, in the Republic of Korea, were the first to walk through the new archway and were escorted along the path to the bricks bearing their Soldiers’ names.
For Johnson’s father, Edward J.W. Johnson — known as J.W. — who has attended previous events here in honor of his son, including Johnson’s Hall of Fame induction in June, this ceremony stood apart from others.
“This one hurt, not just for my son, but collectively — there are so many names,” he said. “When you look back at all the sacrifices all these people have made, it hits you. It’s personal, but also something you share with everybody.”
J.W. was escorted by Sgt. Maj. Joshua Warehime, USACBRNS personnel development sergeant major, who has a special connection to the younger Johnson — he served with him from 2015 to 2017, while assigned to the 14th Chemical Reconnaissance Detachment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. For him, escorting J.W. was an honor, and brought things full circle.
“Hopefully knowing that I served alongside his son helped make the dedication ceremony a little more personable,” he said. “I know it did for me.”
The ceremony was concluded with the playing of taps by the 399th Army Band and the traditional lone piper fading into the distance to the tune of “Amazing Grace.”
With their names written in stone at memorials like the one at Chemical Memorial Grove, the stories of the Soldiers who paid the ultimate price for freedom while serving in the Chemical Corps will continue to live on, Crockett said.
“Woven into the fabric of our country are those who died while wearing the cloth of our nation,” Crockett said. “The stories of their sacrifices live on in the proud memories of their loved ones, at observances and through inscriptions on memorials and plaques dedicated to the legacy of their generation.”