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History, art come together in Florence Veterans Park

November 11, 2018

FLORENCE, S.C. -- There is a place in Florence where history, art and tranquil grassy areas pay homage to approximately 1 percent of our population.

A vision of former Mayor Frank Willis and an ideal parcel of land donated by the Byrd Estate, the family of World War II fighter pilot Ed Young, resulted in the Florence Veterans Park. It was dedicated November 11, 2008.

At the dedication, the audience of nearly 1,000 seemed pleased and surprised that this 6½ acres of carefully landscaped beauty populated with a few wonderful monuments was a reality. Two monuments at the opening ceremony were the Desert Shield/Desert Storm Monument, relocated from the old county museum, and the towering Armed Forces Monument with the “Eagle” watching over.

Also, at the initial event in the park, the Wall of Honor was unveiled with the names of 324 honorably discharged Pee Dee area veterans. Today, the number has grown to 720.

The park has grown exponentially. Today, it is home to monuments recognized by the American Institute of Commemorative Art (AICA) with First Place, Best Monument in Public Park, for the year it was dedicated. The towering Armed Forces Monument (2008) was a collaboration of artists from Brown Memorials and internationally renowned sculptor Alex Palkovich. The USAF Monument (2015) won first. The U.S. Army Monument (2016) won second place from the AICA and first place from Monument Builders of North America as the best hand-etched monument. The Vietnam Monument (2017) was awarded second best by AICA. The USAF, the U.S. Army and the Vietnam m onuments were all designed by Bran Oswalt and etched by Dan Garrison of Brown Memorials, a huge resource of talent and expertise since before the park opened.

Palkovich has given time, effort and outstanding advice to make the park what it is today. His larger-than-life sculptures depict the happiness of a soldier returning to his family (“Home Safe”) and the profound sadness evident when a loved one did not return (“Alone With Memories”) situated in front of his “Wall of Tears.”

As far as history, Palkovich created the 9/11 Monument that has a 280-pound block of limestone that was on the west façade of the Pentagon where the terrorists attacked. The stone, one of the original building blocks of the Pentagon, is centered in a configuration of steel depicting the Pentagon atop the Twin Towers.

More history is found at the U.S. Navy Monument with the ship’s bell from the World War I Dreadnaught Destroyer USS South Carolina serving as the heart of the monument. The 2,200-pound anchor from the cutter Commanche is the centerpiece of a tribute to the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard. And our park is one of very few parks to recognize the Merchant Marines (Samuel Bacot DAR) with crossed anchors.

There is more. …

For instance, there is a Purple Heart Monument and tribute to the most highly decorated enlisted sailor in history, former Pee Dee resident Elliott Williams. Among the others worth seeing are a tribute to POWs and KIAs (“Rolling Thunder”), an Oath of Enlistment, the U.S. Marines Corps (USMC League) and a World War I monument (American Legion Post 1).

Literally hundreds of people, organizations, businesses and media – including the Morning News – have made this park the No. 1 Tourist Attraction in Florence per the nonscientific poll, Trip Adviser. Please plan to thank our veterans by attending the 2018 ceremony.

At 3 p.m. today – Veterans Day – the park will add a monument to the men and women of the Korean War, designed and created by Blackmon Memorials.

Following the tradition of outstanding speakers, Milford H. Beagle, the commanding general at Fort Jackson and a South Carolina native, will be our distinguished guest. In addition to the speaker and the new monument, there will be patriotic music, remarks from Korean War veterans and a tribute to Palkovich.

The ceremony is conducted unless weather is extreme. Seating is limited, so lawn chairs are welcome.

The Veterans Day Ceremony is free and open to the public.

The Veterans Park is at 601 Woody Jones Blvd., adjacent to the Florence Center.

Barringer F. Wingard Jr., Col. (R), U.S. Army, is the chairman of the Florence Veterans Park Committee.

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