Flanked by public officials and veterans, the directors of the WNC Veterans’ Memorial put shovel to dirt, breaking ground on Veterans Day for the future memorial.
“This memorial is not to be in recognition of war, but in recognition of veterans,” memorial Chair Richard Griffin said, standing behind a podium on the City/County Plaza site. “We recognize and are humbled by those who have perished or become wounded in wartime. We are pleased to be a part of bringing to Asheville, Buncombe County and, indeed, Western North Carolina a truly significant veteran’s memorial.”
The directors expect that construction on the memorial will begin in January. The group exceeded their fundraising goals and will use the remaining funds to help maintain the memorial. They hope to have it completed and dedicated by next Veterans Day.
Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy promised that “this will be a hallowed ground for you to come to reflect on our community, reflect that our community has come together to make sure that we remember those that have given [their] lives, who have served our country and will yet serve our country.”
Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Nathan Ramsey said that on Veterans Day, it’s important to remember those from Buncombe County, like Staff Sgt. Joseph Ray, a county employee, who gave their lives in military service. Ray died in combat on March 12, 2006.
“It’s very fitting this memorial will be in a prominent place in our community, to remember the best among us,” Ramsey said.
Walter Plaue, a member of the board of directors, presented Ramsey with a 1948 collage made up of photos of those from the county who had served in World War II. The collage will ultimately be given to the Buncombe County Veterans’ Council.
The group has been trying to build a memorial for eight years. They’ve overcome several hurdles, including multiple redesigns and a controversy over a proposed inscription that critics asserted was too militaristic and denigrated other professions. In response, the memorial board agreed to use a different inscription.
Director Tuck Gudger served with the Air Force as a navigator on a B-24 bomber in 42 missions, with 620 combat hours. At the ceremony, he wore a pin representing the Purple Heart he was awarded after a mission that killed four of his crewmates.
“I think this has been needed for a long time,” Gudger told Xpress. “Every small town has a memorial to its veterans and here we sat, a large town in WNC, and we didn’t have one. That’s why we started this thing. We had no problem raising the money: The citizens backed us, and we’re so happy we’re going to be able to give it to them.”