By Jeff Crawley, Fort Sill CannoneerApril 23, 2010
FORT SILL, Okla.--The inscription on his memorial reads: "Hope, Promise, Potential." These three words summed up the brief life of 2nd Lt. Matthew Zielinski, Air Defense Artillery officer and U.S. Military Academy graduate.
Zielinski, 23, died after being struck by a truck in Anthony, Texas, Oct. 21, 1988. Almost 22 years later, the 2nd Lt. Matthew J. Zielinski Memorial Plaza was unveiled Friday along with buildings dedicated to retired Col. James "Buster" Hayden and the late Lt. Col. Larry Pruitt during a ceremony at the ADA brigade complex near Mow-Way and Burrill roads here.
At the ceremony, family and friends hugged, former West Point classmates greeted each other and Soldiers who had served together got reacquainted. And, everyone in attendance learned about the three Soldiers who contributed so much to the Army, ADA Branch and the community.
Zielinski's siblings Paul, Diane Brow, Peter and Steve unveiled his memorial with Col. Dan Karbler, 31st ADA Brigade commander.
"The memorial is beautiful," said Brow, who made the trip from Simsbury, Conn.
Peter Zielinski, from Van Alstyne, Texas, added: "The logistics of the service were perfect. We really have to thank the 31st for doing a great job."
The opening of new ADA facilities at Fort Sill, presented the opportunity for a memorial and buildings dedicated to air defenders so it was only fitting that a memorial be named in Zielinski's honor to inspire Soldiers of all ranks, said Karbler, a 1987 West Point classmate of Zielinski.
"Matt Zielinski has always been a great friend and always in our memories. As an air defense leader, I always felt that Matt would have been right there with us," Karbler said. "This (memorial) has always kind of been in the back of my mind for the last 22 years."
In his welcome, U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill Commanding General Maj. Gen. David Halverson said it was a day of reflection.
"One, to show what our country believes what our Soldier's need to be able to command and control and to work in today's environment," said Halverson, gesturing toward the new facilities. "And to memorialize some great air defenders.
"Just like the Sherman House (CG's residence), when people come by Hayden Hall, Pruitt Hall and the Zielinski Memorial those are things that will never leave," Halverson said.
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe spoke about Hayden for whom the 31st ADA Brigade Headquarters was named. He noted Hayden's West Point heritage: His great-grandfather graduated in the Civil War class of 1862, his grandfather graduated in 1888, his father graduated in the class of 1917, and Hayden graduated in 1945.
"One of the proudest memories I have is back in the middle 1950s is that I actually served with the great 'Buster' Hayden and that's why I'm here today," Inhofe said.
Hayden made the trip from El Paso, Texas. Hayden said that the building dedication meant everything to him, but he added, "there are so many just as deserving."
Lisa Pruitt Miller, of Fairfax Station, Va., helped cut the ribbon and unveil the plaque for the dedication of the Lt. Col. Larry H. Pruitt Hall, the 3rd Battalion, 2nd ADA Battalion Headquarters, which was named in honor of her late husband.
"I know that my husband's legacy and memory lives on in the hearts of the Soldiers, who he served ... but now it's a building and as the Soldiers retire and move on and as time goes, his memory will still be within the air defense community and that means a lot," she said.
Pruitt, a 1983 West Point graduate from Berwick, Pa., died in 2001 from a heart attack while playing soccer. Part of the inscription on the Pruitt Hall plaque reads, "In addition to his exceptional military career, Lt. Col. Pruitt excelled in many sports and was a four-year letter winner for Army football."
Pruitt Miller said her late husband would have loved the ceremony and the new facilities.
"'Hooah!' is what he would have said," she said with a laugh.