As Bill Craft was guiding me through the Guilford County Veterans’ Memorial at Greensboro’s Country Park, I managed to lose sight of our two companions, Bill Black and Al Lochra.
No, there they were: up ahead, picking up sticks and leaves cluttering the Path of Memory. Now, that’s pride.
They have a right to be proud of the memorial. They helped create it. It not only honors their own service, it pays tribute to all the men and women who wore the uniforms of the U.S. armed forces during the 20th century.
The memorial, which features a 24-foot obelisk, was dedicated in September 2002 after a two-year campaign led by a group of local veterans raised $650,000 — a quarter-million dollars over its goal. The extra is managed by the Community Foundation for maintenance.
“Everything fell into place, you might say,” Craft reflected last week. “In looking back, I don’t think we could have done it any better than we did.”
Who could argue? The memorial occupies high ground at the park, overlooking the lake and less than a musket shot from a line of trees separating Country Park from the property of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. In fact, there was fighting on the site of the memorial, so it’s hallowed ground.
It’s peaceful now, especially on bright and breezy April days. Joggers, walkers and bicyclists stream by, and people with a special purpose stop and visit.
“Every now and then you’ll see a rose or a plant or a flag,” Craft said, referring to the bricks lining the memorial, each bearing the name of someone who served. The bricks alone raised around $200,000 at $200 each.
Other funds came from Guilford County, the cities of Greensboro and High Point, the smaller towns in Guilford County, local foundations and families. Some of Guilford County’s most prominent families are represented on a plaque acknowledging their gifts. Many of them had loved ones who served.
The memorial is more than a place to sit and remember the sacrifices of those who fought to preserve our freedoms, although it’s perfect for that. It’s a place to learn, and it should be visited by history classes from all Guilford County middle and high schools.
The walls are fitted with displays giving information about major events and theaters of operation for 20th century wars. And then there are the excerpts from letters written by servicemen overseas. Here’s one from a Marine in Vietnam, 1965: “If I am killed, do not cry or mourn. Hold your head high and be proud of me.”
That deep pride will be expressed next month during the annual Black Cap Memorial Day Service, when residents of Guilford County can come together to remember those who “followed the path of duty,” in words spoken by Winston Churchill and preserved at the memorial.
While Country Park makes a fitting location to honor Guilford County servicemen, Craft, Black, Lochra and others worry that another effort will diminish what they accomplished here with so much help.
Late last year, Guilford County commissioners gave approval for another organization, the War Memorial Foundation, to begin raising funds to build a memorial at Triad Park in Kernersville.
The park straddles the Forsyth/Guilford county line, belonging to both. The planned new memorial is an ambitious undertaking, with an amphitheater and parade ground envisioned. Spearheaded by the Marine Corps League, the project would cost millions of dollars and attract big events.
Commissioner Bruce Davis, a retired Marine and supporter of the new memorial, assures the Country Park group that there is no threat.
“I don’t think we can celebrate and recognize the contributions of our veterans too much,” he said Monday, adding that the Triad Park location would be “more accessible and hopefully increase tourism.”
It could host parades, concerts and other large activities in a patriotic setting.
Fundraising has yet to begin in earnest, and that could be a tall order — especially if some of the same people who gave generously to the Country Park memorial are approached again.
Davis is right that additional recognition of veterans is welcome, and that a parade ground and amphitheater would allow activities not available at Country Park.
At the same time, the Country Park memorial, though located in a Greensboro city park, was designed to represent all of Guilford County. It should not be forgotten or marginalized.
There is too much pride invested there.