Some 200 people—including uniformed soldiers, patch-wearing vets, Boy and Girl Scouts and assorted civilians—gathered at Memorial Stadium above McCormick Field on May 25 for the Asheville/Buncombe Memorial Day ceremony. The sixth annual observation was also notable for the dedication of a veterans memorial on the site after a years-long and sometimes troubled effort by city and county leaders.
“There was a time I didn’t think this was going to happen,” noted Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair David Gantt, who joined Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy in laying a wreath at the site.
WLOS anchor Larry Blunt, who has a son serving in Iraq, presided over the ceremony and gave sometimes emotional opening remarks.
“A lot of people don’t think about the memorial part of the memorial holiday weekend,” he said. “You think of all the young lives over the years. And we just take it for granted.”
Council member Carl Mumpower also gave an emotional speech. Although he wasn’t listed on the program, Bellamy turned the microphone over to him in recognition of his heading up the effort to re-establish the 1920s-vintage stadium as a war memorial.
“Four-and-a-half years ago,” said Bellamy, “We had a councilman who said we are doing a shameful job of honoring our war dead.”
Mumpower, who formed a committee in 2003 to try and round up funding for the memorial, nonetheless voted against U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money for the project in February because of his long-standing opposition to accepting federal tax dollars.
But Mumpower said he was glad to see the memorial become a reality. “This will be a place for our children to come and learn about service and sacrifice,” he said. “I’m glad I lost that 6-1 vote.”
The memorial consists of a brick wall and marble plates that list casualties from Western North Carolina in the two world wars. Behind the wall, three flagpoles fly the U.S., North Carolina and POW/MIA flags.
Together, the monument, surrounding gardens and restoration of the arch that served as the stadium’s original memorial cost roughly $225,000, according to Al Kopf, superintendent of planning and development for Asheville’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department.
Someday, said Mumpower, the memorial will list WNC war dead from all U.S. conflicts as well as stories by local veterans.