FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Veterans who have served in every war from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom were on hand Feb. 11, to celebrate at the ground-breaking ceremony for the North Carolina Veterans Park near the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville.

Also in attendance were Senator Margaret Dickson; Gen. James J. Lindsay, the first commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, XVIII Airborne Corps commander; and Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne.

The state General Assembly awarded the city $14 million in 2008 for the park's construction. According to Chavonne, Fayetteville's rich military heritage made the "All-American" city the most fitting place for such a project.

The ceremony marked the beginning of the park's first phase of construction, which should be completed by July 4, 2011.

According to a press release on the City of Fayetteville's Web site, the NCVP will help improve the image and catalyze redevelopment in the downtown area. The city will also reorganize the major streets in the area and will redevelop under used properties.

The home for the NVCP is known as the Northwest Gateway, which is at the convergence of Bragg Boulevard, Rowan Street and Murchison Road.

The park will eventually link Fayetteville State University, the ASOM, Freedom Memorial Park and several other important areas. The N.C. Department of Transportation is planning to rebuild the Rowan Street Bridge in the coming years. When this occurs, the latter phases for the onstruction of the NVCP will begin.

Craig Hampton, the NVCP project manager, said the park could be completed by 2015 but possibly sooner if the bridge is replaced ahead of schedule.

"This is a great day for the city and the community as a whole," Hampton explained. "The park is intended to honor our veterans who deserve our thanks and to change the whole landscape of the downtown area."

The park will include several trails lined with trees, reflective pools, fountains, gardens, a 3,500-square-foot visitors center and many exhibits highlighting the service of American military members.

This is going to be a place where veterans and their Families can come and reflect and remember. Every element of the park is going to speak to the lives of our veterans."

Dickson said she is looking forward to visiting the park and using it as a place to think about what America's servicemembers have done for the country.

"This will be a place to honor all of our veterans from all of the services," the senator explained. "It's also going to be representative of the entire state."

The senator said soil from all 100 counties in North Carolina will be added to the park, and many of the parks building materials and exhibits will be brought in from every part of the state.
Michael J. Davis, a Huey pilot during Vietnam and Silver Star recipient, said he is pleased that Fayetteville is building the NVCP.

"I'm not sure what this means to me yet, but it's a very good project," the former chief warrant officer said. "I anticipate spending quite a lot of time here when it is finished."

Davis went on to say that the park is not only a testament to the bravery and loyalty of veterans but also to the strong will and determination of Family members.

"This project is just as much about the Families as it is the veterans. Without them and the support of the community, our jobs would be fruitless," he said, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his wife.