Several hundred people gathered Friday morning – the anniversary of 9/11 – to break ground on a new memorial honoring post-9/11 service members who died in the line of duty.
The memorial at the southeast plaza of Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena will join other veteran monuments previously erected there.
The ceremony was part of a wider observance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Matt Lyons acknowledged the losses of that day and how this country’s subsequent military actions were “inextricably linked.”
In his invocation, Lyons said the families of the fallen have been united by their personal losses and strengthened by the act of sharing those losses.
The project to create the new memorial, called Illuminating Courage, is led by Gold Star families, people whose loved ones have died in military service.
They are working in partnership with the city of Spokane, Spokane Public Facilities District, Spokane Arts organization and the Washington State Fallen Heroes Project.
Dave Baird, a team leader at the Veterans Outreach Center in Spokane Valley, spoke directly to the family members and friends of the fallen when he said, “this is for you and your fallen loved ones.”
The 30-foot-high sculpture will be built out of stainless steel and stone and will have a partial golden finish.
Staff at Land Expressions, of Mead, worked with project organizers on a design that will be similar in form to a candle, but unfurling like a flag. Its curving walls will turn inward, and light from within the sculpture will represent the service members’ spirit and courage. Names of post-9/11 fallen service members from Washington and North Idaho will be engraved in the core of the sculpture.
“This is an important occasion as we break ground,” said Mayor David Condon, an Army veteran.
Firefighters and police officers who sacrificed their lives on 9/11 also should be remembered, he said.
T.J. Gaia, vice president of the state Fallen Heroes Project, talked about losing comrades during his two tours in Iraq – once in the Army in 2004 and 2005 and again with the Washington National Guard in 2008 and 2009.
His words evoked tears from some of the family members seated in front of him.
“I share these stories to keep their memories alive,” he said.
Gaia said Vietnam War veterans also deserve recognition for their sacrifices, drawing applause from the crowd.
Since his active military service as a staff sergeant, Gaia has been working with returning veterans, currently as a supported employment specialist with Mann-Grandstaff Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Spokane. His clients struggle with mental health problems.
The memorial is expected to be complete by Veterans Day this fall. The project is expected to cost about $150,000.
A ceremony to dedicate the memorial is set for 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 11.
Commemorative pavers are being sold to raise money for ongoing maintenance of the memorial.
In a related event, the Spokane Arena will dedicate a Chair of Honor as a memorial to prisoners of war and those missing in action. The chair always will remain vacant. The ceremony will be at 10:15 a.m. Friday at the Arena. The public is welcome. Enter through the northwest doors.
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