Veterans salute as the Dobyns-Bennett Junior Air Force ROTC posts the colors for the Kingsport Veterans Memorial groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
KINGSPORT — More than 100 people — most of them veterans — stood in the cold and drizzling rain Friday afternoon to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Veterans Memorial in Kingsport.
After years of planning, working and fund raising, the new Veterans Memorial is finally becoming a reality. Veterans from all branches of the military and from every war — World War II to Enduring Freedom — were on hand Friday afternoon at the memorial’s groundbreaking.
U.S. Rep. David Davis called the veterans at Friday’s ceremony the kind of people we should never forget. State Rep. Nathan Vaughn said the country owes its veterans an honor and allegiance for their service.
John Keys, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs, was on hand for Friday’s groundbreaking and said the site would soon become “hallowed ground.”
“There is no greater service than to serve your country,” he said.
Jim Erwin, project manager for the memorial, said core drillings will begin Monday, construction soon after, and the memorial could be completed by July 5. At that time it will be turned over to the city as a city park, Erwin said.
“Today is awesome. Two and a half years, and today’s a beautiful day,” Erwin said. “I look around here, and there’s a representative from every war from World War II to Enduring Freedom.”
Kingsport Tomorrow has been working for more than two years to create a new Veterans Memorial in front of J. Fred Johnson Park on Fort Henry Drive between the old Highway Patrol Building and Indian Court. Conceptual drawings were revealed in 2006, and since then the organization has been raising funds to cover the estimated $700,000 construction cost.
Conceptual drawings show a memorial of red, white and blue granite that includes a circular area with six 7-foot-tall granite tablets, one for each war from World War I to Operation Iraqi Freedom, with two from World War II. The tablets will display the names of 349 fallen soldiers from Kingsport on one side and a map of the theater of operations on the other.
The memorial will also include a centered U.S. flag, which will remain lit at all times, benches, earth berms, and two walkways leading up to the circular area from each side. The proposal calls for the reconfiguration of the existing parking lot and the construction of a new parking lot off Indian Court.
The project also calls for 1,488 granite pavers to lead up to the memorial along both sides of the walkway, where people and veterans can inscribe messages, their name or the name of another veteran — living or dead.
“We’re hoping to put more pavers in,” Erwin said. “We’re taking names on a waiting list right now. We’ve had such a big demand we’re trying to accommodate those people,”
Kingsport Tomorrow officials had hoped to break ground on the project the day after Fun Fest last year and have the memorial dedicated by Veterans Day. However, due to a lack of money, the groundbreaking was pushed back several times, and according to Erwin, they still need to raise an additional $100,000 to complete the project.
Vietnam Veterans of America has pledged $50,000 for the project.
“It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done,” said Cpl. Tim Ferrell, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1956 to 1964. “I wish they’d had done it sooner instead of waiting so long.”
John Salyer, who served in the U.S. Army from 1973 to 1995, said he felt good about Friday’s ceremony.
“I was tickled to death with it,” he said. “It’s long overdue, and we put a lot of hard work into it to make it happen.”