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Unveiling of first phase of Blue Ridge Veterans Memorial is an emotional and long-awaited time.
By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff
The crowd fell silent as the white sheets were removed from the finished monoliths, one after another.
This was the first time the public had seen the black granite stones, each symbolizing a different branch of the U.S. military.
After all six were revealed, designer Todd Price removed the sheet from the central “Honor Monolith,” completing the circle and the first major piece of the Blue Ridge Veterans Memorial.
The crowd stared at the large display in awe, and several tears escaped the eyes of onlookers. Whether it was in remembrance of a loved one, or a reminder of their own service, the shiny new monument had a special message for everyone in attendance.
Sunday afternoon, members of the community were invited to the Galax Public Library to celebrate the unveiling of the first part of the Blue Ridge Veterans Memorial, the Honor Circle.
Frank Plichta, a Vietnam veteran and a supporter of the project from its inception, began the ceremony with a speech that highlighted the efforts that have been made by the community so far.
He recalled when commanders of each local veterans’ group used military entrenching tools to break ground on the memorial three years ago. “Those entrenching tools were dirty with the soil of unknown lands,” said Plichta, noting that they had been last used by a soldier to dig trenches and fox holes.
“The soil left on those tools became mixed with the soil of this memorial site during that groundbreaking event. This site then became hallowed ground.”
Those who helped make the memorial a reality were chosen to unveil the monoliths — U.S. Army veteran Larry Bouchard and Joey Davis, members of the city maintenance crew who built the foundation; Keith Barker, city manager; Edwin Ward, city engineer; Doug Williams, project architect; Randy Butcher, city electrician; and Todd Price, artist and designer of the monument.
After the unveiling, Frank and Sharon Plichta took several moments to honor these individuals for their dedication to the project. Each was presented with a nameplate, made from the same black granite used to build the monoliths. Afterwards, a total of 35 World War II veterans who attended the ceremony were honored with Honorable Discharge lapel pins. These pins were originally issued between September 1939 and December 1946, and were the only way that a veteran could visibly show his or her service to the public in civilian attire.
Since they stopped being issued after World War II, they are considered unique and significantly honorable pieces of U.S. military insignia.
Galax Mayor C.M. Mitchell also took a moment to not only recognize the memorial site as a place for veterans, but also as a calm retreat for everyone in the community.
“Use this memorial as a place to heal your very soul,” he said. “Whether it be for quiet reflection, to walk among the stones in remembrance, to take photos, to socialize with friends and family, or to be alone with your own private thoughts, this place truly is a place for everyone.”
Once the formal ceremony was over, guests were invited to walk through the memorial for a closer look at each monolith. People were also encouraged to explore the completed aspects by touch, as the memorial was specifically designed with disabled veterans in mind.
Price noted that his parents were an inspiration for this decision.
“I think I’ve been through about four different designs for this project since 2004,” he said as he stood back and looked at the crowd making their way around the circle.
Laura Bryant, former director of the Galax library, smiled and looked on as the crowd moved through the memorial, taking pictures and shaking the hands of veterans as they passed through.
“I think it's great that the memorial was placed here," Bryant said, noting that public libraries, which offer a valuable informational resource to the public at no charge, were another great example of American freedom.
There are several visual and textural symbols tied in with the structural design, as well. Sharon Plichta highlighted key elements of this during the ceremony.
The eagle soaring at the top of the Honor memorial is angled to match a soldier’s salute, and also symbolizes the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The circles throughout the monument represent ideas such as life and death, then and now, life and eternity.
The pillars are polished on the front and back, but rough on the sides, contrasting both life and death, and war and peace.
In the shape of obelisks, the pillars reach upwards in the direction of heaven and God.
“The wonderful quality of our monuments is due to Todd’s attention to detail and persistence that his vision be carried through,” Sharon Plichta said. “The end product couldn’t be better, Todd.”
While this project has reached a major milestone in development, there is still plenty more to come. Frank Plichta noted that the pavers placed around the base of the obelisks were there as a preview of how the ground will look once the project is completed. “The best way to support this effort is to honor or memorialize your family’s veterans with [one of these pavers],” he said. “Any veteran with any connection to the Blue Ridge is eligible.”
The speakers for the ceremony were accompanied by military service songs by Ruth Bennett and Judith Lineberry. They played a medley of songs matching each service branch as the monoliths were unveiled. "The National Anthem" and “God Bless America” were sung by Aimee Dalton.
The national colors and flags of the military services were carried to the site by Robert Rice, Gary Lowe, Robert J. Felicito, Tommy Nichols, Dan Boyer, Rick Birch and Frank Sayers.
Opening prayer was led by the Rev. Thomas Whartenby, a Vietnam veteran; and benediction was led by the Rev. Edward Pasley, a U.S. Army veteran.
Following the ceremony, cake and punch were offered in the great room of the library, courtesy of the Ladies Auxiliary of VFW Post #7726 in Independence.