KINGSPORT — Hundreds of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines gathered on Veterans Day Tuesday to honor the service and sacrifice of their fellow veterans and to witness the dedication of Kingsport’s new veterans memorial.
Kingsport Tomorrow held a dedication ceremony Tuesday morning for the Kingsport Veterans Memorial — located in front of J. Fred Johnson Park on Fort Henry Drive between the old Highway Patrol Building and Indian Court.
“This site is indeed hallowed ground. It will serve as an educational tool and a sign that will endure for all veterans,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Veterans Affairs John Keys, who gave the keynote speech during the event. “When you put on that uniform, raise your right hand to take that oath, and be willing to give, even if it took your life to do it, to these United States. What more can you ask of a person?”
Over 700 people, many of them veterans, filled the park, lined the hill and stood in the cold for about an hour to witness the unveiling of the new memorial. One such veteran was Marine Tech Sgt. Martha Rector, who served three years during World War II.
“I’ve shed some tears. This is absolutely wonderful,” said Rector. “It’s been an enormous satisfaction for us to be able to do this, and we had such really dedicated people working on this. I’m just so thankful.”
The memorial is of red, white and blue granite. A white granite plaza contains six 7-foot-tall blue granite tablets, one for each war from World War I to Operation Iraqi Freedom, with two from World War II. The tablets display the names of 370 fallen soldiers from Kingsport on one side and a map of the theater of operations on the other. Over 550,000 pounds of granite was used in the construction of the memorial.
The memorial includes a centered U.S. flag, which will remain lit at all times, benches, earth berms, and two walkways leading up to the plaza from each side that include the names of famous battle sites, such as Berlin, Guam, Normandy, Tet and Kabul.
On either side of the walkways are rows of granite pavers — the “Walk of Honor” features 1,728 red granite pavers bearing the names of veterans, living or dead — that lead up to the memorial along both sides of the walkway.
“This is something the city can be proud of,” said Gerald Cardwell, post commander of the American Legion Hammond Post 3 in Kingsport. “I feel great. It’s long overdue. We had some bumps, but everything worked out fine.”
The dedication included music from the Dobyns-Bennett High School marching band and two sung songs — the national anthem and “God Bless America.” A couple of prayers were said, a 21-gun salute rang out, and the event concluded with the playing of taps. Many people remained after the
ceremony to tour the memorial, visit with friends and remember the past.
A few made etchings of the pavers, while many others took pictures of the tablets.
“It turned out better than I hoped. I’m just tickled to death,” said Jim Erwin, who oversaw the project. “It’s awesome. You look around and see all these vets and families and the pride in this town. It makes you feel proud.”
Kingsport Tomorrow broke ground on the memorial in February. They held a memory box ceremony in September where people placed letters and memorabilia in a steel box, which was then placed in the foundation of the memorial. Construction began in July, with the final touches on the memorial being completed last week.
“I feel relieved, overwhelmed and so very happy of this community,” said Susan LaGuardia, director of Kingsport Tomorrow.
The organization and a committee of volunteers worked for three years to make the memorial a reality, raising $600,000 to cover the cost of the project. However, due to a rise in diesel fuel prices and the cost of concrete, the cost of the project rose from an estimated $700,000 to the current price tag of $862,000.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen earlier this month unanimously voted to give Kingsport Tomorrow $248,000 to cover the shortfall in the project.