The historic house was hard to miss on Franklin Street. The red-white-and-blue bunting was draped everywhere along the front porch and a sign outside proclaimed it as the Madison County Veterans Memorial Headquarters.
As people gathered on the morning of March 11 for the ribbon cutting opening the memorial's new fund-raising headquarters, the sidewalk soon became crowded with a "Who's Who" lineup of Soldiers and civilians who have close connections with the soon-to-be-built veterans memorial and the wars it will recognize.
Leading the event were veterans David Carney, president of the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition, and Bill Stender and Bob Drolet, who are spearheading the establishment of the memorial. Huntsville Mayor Loretta Spencer as well as representatives of the Madison County Military Heritage Commission, Huntsville-Redstone Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Patriot Guard Riders, Madison County Veterans Affairs Office and Sen. Richard Shelby's local office were in attendance.
"The entire community is involved in making the veterans memorial an outstanding memorial," Stender said.
But the main attraction was the veterans and families who gathered to celebrate the headquarters opening. Among them were Vietnam veteran Everett Carter, Operation Enduring Freedom veteran and Reserve Sgt. Chad Perry, Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and National Guard Sgt. Hubble Hainline and his family, Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and National Guard Sgt. Jessica Newey and her mom, Rachel Gentle, and the family of National Guard Sgt. Russ Spry, who is serving in Iraq with the Alabama Army National Guard's 1203 Engineer Group.
"This is a 'Hooah!' day," Drolet said. "The theme of our memorial is courage, sacrifice and duty. Duty will be represented by the large flag raised in the center of the memorial. Courage and sacrifice will be depicted by Soldiers in two statues."
Carter, a decorated Vietnam veteran; Hainline, who received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in Iraq; and Newey, who received a Purple Heart for her service in Iraq, have been chosen as the models for the "Sacrifice" statue. Perry and Spry have been chosen as models for the "Courage" statue.
Prior to the ribbon cutting, the crowd recognized Hainline's wife, Shannon, for her service in caring for her husband during his recovery from a sniper bullet in Iraq that ripped through his neck and caused serious injuries. She was presented with a declaration from the Adjutant General's Office and Gov. Bob Riley that named her an honorary colonel in the Alabama Army National Guard.
The memorial headquarters at 403 Franklin St. will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The headquarters will be managed by veteran Tom Dunn of the Madison County Military Heritage Commission and staffed by volunteers who will be working to raise $4 million for the memorial prior to a groundbreaking ceremony on Veterans Day 2008. Plans call for the memorial to be completed by Veterans Day 2009.
Since planning for the memorial began in 2001, about $200,000 has been raised toward its construction. Memorial board members hope to use several different avenues, including community programs, corporate donation programs and a brick purchasing campaign, to help raise funds.
The memorial will have a six-fold purpose:
Aca,!Ac To recognize all Madison County veterans, and the wars and conflicts these veterans have service in;
Aca,!Ac To inspire visitors and instill a sense of pride and respect for all U.S. veterans;
Aca,!Ac To provide an incentive to visitors to serve their country;
Aca,!Ac To educate visitors, especially the young, of the sacrifices for American freedom;
Aca,!Ac To recognize Madison County veterans who gave their lives in service; and
Aca,!Ac To recognize the Madison County veterans who are recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
"This memorial is important for the entire community," said Drolet, who envisions it as not only an educational tool for school children but also as a patriotic statement for a city that has enjoyed a longtime relationship with the military and as a tourist attraction for all visitors to Madison County.
Spencer praised the volunteers who are committed to building the memorial, and recognized the efforts of Stender and Drolet.
"Their heart and passion is for the military and making things happen so we don't forget," she said.
For more information about the memorial or to make a donation, visit the memorial web site at www.madisoncountyveteransmemorial.org. Anyone wanting to volunteer to assist at the memorial headquarters should call Mary Jane Caylor at 424-0020.