GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — Daisy Brown sat in the back of a crowd of about 200 people in the shadows of the historic County Courthouse as a new monument was dedicated to the 66 veterans from Clay County who died fighting for their country.
The 83-year-old woman proudly raised her hand when relatives of the deceased were asked to stand for recognition, and after the ceremony she got a closer look at her brother's name engraved on one of the new taps monument's granite walls.
The monument is named for the Civil War-era bugle call that is sounded at dusk and at military funerals. A pair of buglers played a call-and-response version of the tune at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Brown said her brother, Aaron Coleman, was raised in Green Cove Springs and reported to Camp Blanding when he joined the Army during World War II. What happened to him after that has always been a family mystery, she said.
"My mother got a call from the Army about my brother getting blown up," Brown said. "But that's all we knew."
The monument in the heart of Green Cove Springs will ensure that the memories of people like Coleman will live forever. The $82,000 sculpture was built with money raised from individuals and charitable organizations with no financial assistance from the government.
Clay County Commissioner Gayward Hendry, a retired Marine, spoke about how important it is to honor the fallen from the area. "We are here this morning to send a strong message to the youth," he said.
He told the younger members of the crowd that the new monument is a reminder that there is a permanent place for anyone from Clay County who makes the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Hendry said new names will be added any time that sad occasion comes.
The taps sculpture on the top of the memorial is 44 inches tall above a 32-inch base with the words "Remember Our Fallen" engraved on each side.
The bronze sculpture is finished in a traditional chocolate brown patina and was designed by Richard C. Rist, a Navy veteran who owns The Large Art Company of Baltimore, Md.
The sculpture consists of three rifles forming a pyramid with the barrels down to symbolize the fallen veterans. It rests on a triangular base which represents a folded American flag with a helmet resting on top of the rifles and a bugle resting below them them.
The rifles include a 1903 Springfield to represent the fallen from World War I, a M-1 Garand rifle to represent the fallen from World War II and the Korean War and a M-16 rifle to represent the modern era. The bugle is for those lost in the Civil War.
Gary Newman, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Clay County Chapter 1059 and chairman of the Monument Committee, spearheaded the project which was first proposed 10 years ago by Harold Rutledge, chairman of the Clay County Commission at that time.
The committee held its first meeting in March 2015 and has been raising money ever since. The County Commission approved the project in August 2015.
"I am very deeply touched by the symbolism," Newman said after explaining what each part of the sculpture stood for.
The monument was supposed to be dedicated Sept. 11, but the ceremony was postponed because of Hurricane Irma.
That change of plans didn't prevent Bobby Marton and two of his cousins from attending the ceremony in honor of their uncle, Johnny A. Marton.
A pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Johnny Marton was shot down over Germany during World War II before Bobby Marton or his cousins were born.
"We never met our uncle, but we were always told stories about what a nice man he was and how he died so young," Debbie Martin Johnson said.
She said her uncle was from a large family of Hungarian immigrants that was very proud of the freedom they found in America. She said her father even changed his last name to Martin so he could serve in the Civilian Conservation Corps before the war and to skirt a rule that was in place forbidding families from having too many members in the service.
The cousins said they brought their uncle's Purple Heart and picture of him to the service because it felt like the right thing to do.
Several others in the crowd honored loved ones in similar ways.
Brown said her son received a call recently from one of the members of the Monument Committee as they were working to identify all the fallen service members from the county. She said she was shocked to find out her brother is buried in Hawaii, but she's happy to know his final resting place.
Before her son got that phone call, the family only knew Coleman had been killed while serving in India.
Now they know where he was laid to rest, and there's a place close to home where she can pay her respects, Brown said.
"That made me feel good," she said after the ceremony. "I can shed a tear."
Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com
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