By Patrick BuffettMarch 21, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (March 21, 2012) -- During an emotional ceremony attended by widowed spouses, Gold Star Moms and grieving parents here Friday, Fort Lee officially opened a Memory Garden for the families and friends of fallen service members.
Neighboring the Army Community Service building on Mahone Avenue, the garden includes a pair of solar-powered fountains, benches and an assortment of trees and greenery to enhance its park-like feel. A marker at the entrance of the site reads: "Survivor Outreach Services Memory Garden -- Dedicated to Our Fallen Service Members and Their Loved Ones."
"We hope the Memory Garden, with its beautiful and peaceful surroundings, will become a place not only of remembrance, but also of reflection and renewal," said Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, during his remarks at the ribbon-cutting. "(It's a place) where memories of your loved ones can be kept alive, for we know that memories are forever and what the heart has once known, it will never forget."
Hodge also acknowledged the Army's commitment to providing support and care within its communities and never leaving a Family behind. "We're here as long as you need us because we know that the journey on the road to healing can be long and challenging."
Also among the guest speakers at the event was the widow of Staff Sgt. Sheldon Tate who was killed in action on July 13, 2010, during an insurgent attack on an Afghan police compound in Kandahar City. He was assigned to the 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team -- an organizational element of the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
"My husband gave his life for America's continuous fight to secure our freedom," Marion Tate said. "Since that time, my Family and my Army Family have been there to see us through our darkest days.
"Today, this memory garden is a gift to all survivors, offering a special place of reflection. I took the opportunity to sit in this very garden a couple of weeks ago and felt the serenity that it brings. It truly is a place of peace. Thank you for remembering, thank you for caring and thank you for giving us a place of belonging."
Stephanie Parker, the ACS director here, called the garden a "labor of love" for the community. The idea for the project was submitted by the Families of the fallen during a Survivor Outreach Services monthly meeting a few years ago, she explained. That motivated ACS and other agencies on the installation to obtain approval for the project, find funding, identify a site and establish a garden design.
"There was never any doubt about the importance of the endeavor," she said. "It was just a matter of how soon we could make it happen."
Friday's ribbon cutting marked the completion of the first phase of the garden project. Phase two will include the addition of two large memory stones that will bear the names of fallen service members in the Fort Lee service area, according to ACS.
"That will be a significant addition," said Parker, who became a survivor herself when her father, Air Force Tech Sgt. Booker T. Bethea, died during her childhood years. "Most people who lose a loved one can visit a gravesite, but a lot of (military) survivors don't have that opportunity because (their service member) may be buried someplace else. The reflection garden will be a place they can grieve and process the loss."
Addressing the survivors in attendance at the ceremony, Col. Rodney D. Edge, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Lee commander, stated: "You are welcome here today and always."
"It is our hope that you find some comfort in this place; for it symbolizes our pledge to never forget those who wore the uniform and served with pride here and around the world," he also noted. "While we can't know the depth of your despair or the hurt you have endured, you have our heartfelt respect and support."
Surviving spouse Kay Miller appreciated that sentiment. Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Robert "Moose" Miller, died from medical complications a few years ago. His 23-year Army career concluded with a stint as a parachute rigging instructor at the Aerial Delivery Field Services Department here.
"For me, the Memory Garden will be a comfort zone," said Miller who now drives for one of the taxi services on post. "This is a peaceful, quiet place that I can share with my family members or enjoy alone. When I need a boost in my day, I can come right here and just remember him and what it truly means to be a member of the Army Family."