WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Ground has been broken for a statewide memorial that will honor Utah’s men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. Military.
Since World War I, the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs reports close to 3,000 Utahns have sacrificed their lives for American freedoms.
“I lost one of my servicemen when I was in Afghanistan, [he] passed away, was killed in action. It means a lot to be here to honor our fallen veterans,” said Jerry Acton, who is a retied Col. from the Utah National Guard.
Turning of the soil Monday marks the beginning of what will become the Guardians of Freedom Memorial in West Valley City.
“We’re not here to glorify or demonize war, we’re here to honor those who’ve served. Who answered the call, whether they were drafted, whether they joined, we will honor them,” said WVC Mayor Ron Bigelow, who also serves as chair of the Veterans Hall Foundation.
Bigelow – a veteran himself – said it is an honor to be able to build this memorial in his community, and to honor those who’ve died in combat.
“We will build a wall, a flag plaza, some landscaping, parking; that will form the start of this project’s phase,” he said.
In the coming years, Bigelow said the plan will continue to develop.
“We will build a small building for monuments, more landscaping,” he said. “We will add monuments for the other aspects of conflict. Clearly, military deaths and casualties, wounded and alike, are most notable. But there are many civilians who lost their lives. And in our wars, those numbers were as great – or perhaps higher – than military deaths.”
This memorial is the first of its kind to be built in Utah, according to WVC officials. It will be a place for people to reflect and remember.
“I love being around the flags and that peace, and that feeling [is] great of not only being a veteran, but an American,” Acton said.
While the memorial will begin with approximately 3,000 names engraved on the stone wall, Bigelow said they will leave space for the future.
“We are still in the middle of conflict. War has been a part of our history. It’s a part of our present, and unfortunately, will be a part of our future. It’s the nature of the world we live in,” he said.
Bigelow recognizes some may still be missing in action or other situations where an individual has not been counted for.
“We will accept any name that needs to go on that wall,” he said. “We will do the research to verify that and work with the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs to verify those.”
The first phase of the memorial project is expected to be complete by Veteran’s Day of this year.
In a future phase, Bigelow said plans are to create an electronic memorial to honor all Utah veterans.