State News

Hands salute NC veterans in new state park

Posted July 4, 2011 7:49 a.m. EDT
Updated July 4, 2011 6:31 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's first park honoring military veterans from all branches of service opened Monday in Fayetteville with an Independence Day dedication.

The North Carolina Veterans Park includes sculptures, fountains, monuments and a visitors center. The tallest structure, called the Pride and Purpose Tower, is made of stainless steel and granite and rises about 35 feet.

"We deserve it ... because of what we have done," said Joyce Ellington, a 21-year Air Force veteran from Orange County. "The ones that were before me paved the way for freedom."

Ellington is one of 100 veterans – one from each North Carolina county – selected to have their hands cast in bronze and displayed on a wall at the park.

"It was overwhelming," she said of seeing her bronzed hand. "I walked around to all of them. I was just elated."

"It makes you feel real good to be a part of something," said Bill Davis, 93, a World War II veteran whose hand was chosen to represent Ashe County.

Columns representing every North Carolina county also contain hand prints of veterans from each county. The visitors center relates the story of state residents' role in every American conflict from the Revolution to Afghanistan.

"I just did my job, and that was it," said World War II veteran Rodney Stewart, 88, who checked out his hand print on Gaston County's column.

Four F-22 fighter jets flew overhead to kick off the dedication, which featured speeches from Gov. Beverly Perdue, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne.

"Every county, every citizen, every veteran can come here and feel a part of this place, of their heritage," Perdue said.

Fayetteville is the proper location for the park, Chavonne said, because of its proximity to Fort Bragg.

"We see our nation's military depart for new places like Fallujah and Kandahar," he said.

The five-acre, $13.7 million park, which is located next to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, was planned for a decade before construction started early last year.

Crews worked seven days a week in the last month to complete the park in time for the dedication.