A quarter, a lighter and a pack of cigarettes with a small note inside was left this past week at the site of what will soon be Wichita’s newest veteran’s memorial.
The Operation Freedom Memorial site was dedicated Sunday along the Arkansas River in Veterans Memorial Park at Second and Greenway. The memorial is to honor the 90 Kansans who have died in terrorist acts, in Iraq and Afghanistan and, as Nick Williams an active duty service member and board member of the memorial project, said Sunday, “in the longest war America has ever fought.”
Nearly three dozen people attended the site dedication following a Veterans Day observation in the park.
“Sometimes it is easier to look at a place and know it is meant for a memory,” Williams told the group. “We have an open space, an open slate for what we are going to commemorate.”
The memorial honors Kansans who served in Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Anita Dixon said she was inspired to create the memorial after her son, Sgt. Evan Parker, died in Iraq in 2005. After attending a Gold Star convention a year after her son’s death, Dixon said she wanted to honor the most recent Kansans who have served in the military. Gold Star mothers, founded in 1918, is an organization for women who have lost children in wars.
Traditionally, most veterans’ memorials are built a good three to four decades or more after a conflict or war has been settled.
“They are built a generation after – after people have come back, reconstituted in their own way and re-established themselves economically and have had time to heal their wounds,” Williams said.
Wichita is doing something different.
“We are trying to build this memorial while we are still in conflict. It is a difficult task when we have so many people still there,” he said.
But the wounds of the current conflicts were apparent at Sunday’s service. Already people are leaving symbols.
There was that pack of cigarettes with the note: “For a friend I met along the way that we may share again one day.”
The memorial, not even built, is already offering solace for those giving service, Williams said.
“People need to recognize that we are still serving,” he said. “There are 70,000 people in Afghanistan and tens of thousands of people in the countries close to Afghanistan who are supporting those in Afghanistan. And there are tens of thousands of us here in the states who have returned from serving in those places.”
Dixon, who on Sunday laid a wreath of fall flowers at the site, said it was important for her that all those Kansans giving service be recognized.
“This is my dream and we are getting very close to finishing. I lay this wreath for all the 90 from the state of Kansas who have given their lives.”