Kneeling soldier welcomes visitors to Veterans Park
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
While he is kneeling, the soldier that greets visitors at the entrance to Liberty Hill’s Veterans Park is an imposing yet comforting sight.
At more than seven-feet-tall, the one-of-a-kind memorial to those who have served the nation is a fitting tribute, and the reaction of those in attendance at his unveiling Monday left no doubt about its impact on the community.
“I just think this is wonderful,” said former Mayor Connie Fuller as she looked over the new addition. “There are two things that are significant about it for me, one is that we’re participating in the downtown revitalization and chose this as the cornerstone for the city, so that people can come here, reflect and have a great sense of community. This statue is in the shadow of the Mel Fowler home, who was our international sculptor and who did our International Sculpture Symposium on this very land. I love this.”
With sculptor Bob Ragan on hand, joined by dozens of area veterans, leaders and members of the community, the City of Liberty Hill introduced the centerpiece of Veterans Park in a ceremony honoring veterans on Monday.
In his opening prayer, veteran, former military chaplain and now city council member Ron Rhea shared a prayer from his Chaplain’s Handbook, summing up in its opening line the importance of the moment.
“Let us remember before our God today, those who sacrificed during times of war in order that we may have liberty, freedom and security,” he said.
City Administrator Greg Boatright echoed that sentiment, saying the reason for the event was to commemorate those who have served, but he thanks a number of people critical to making the park a reality.
“This was certainly the brainchild of, and the effort of our former Mayor, Connie Fuller,” Boatright said. “And as we all know, if you are going to make something happen, you need Barbara (Zwernemann) involved. They both have played a very important role in getting Veterans Park to what you see today. Without their efforts, and their dedication to making it a reality, I’m not sure we would have this beautiful park in our community.”
He also recognized Bob Ragan, who was commissioned by the City Council to bring the kneeling soldier to life.
“I could not think of anyone more suited, more perfect, for the role of creating this statue that will be in the park,” Boatright said. “Being a veteran of the Vietnam War, being local and being the type person that Bob is – one of the most humble people that I’ve ever met.”
Mayor Rick Hall also thanked Fuller for her work on the park, as well as other council members, adding that it was also a very special place for him.
“Veterans Park is something that is very close to my heart because my father served, and my wife’s father served in the military, and that service gives us our freedom,” Hall said.
He called it a privilege to introduce the guest speaker for the event, Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, who highlighted the importance of selfless service.
Funk specifically recognized Vietnam veterans in attendance, comparing the war experience for service members between Vietnam and Desert Storm in 1991.
“If you have to compare the two wars, I would just say let’s just have more wars – if we have to have them – like Desert Storm and fewer like Vietnam,” he said. “(In Desert Storm) we had five objectives. When those five objectives were accomplished we came home. It was clear what we were going to do, and we didn’t have that privilege in Vietnam. The objectives kept changing, the political fires had more to do with the war at the top level than any we have ever been in. In many ways, to lose almost 59,000 of our young people in that effort was one of the great tragedies of my lifetime.”
He went on to talk about how community projects, done for the right reason – citing Liberty Hill’s work on the Veterans Park – are where the true selfless service in America is seen.
“It sort of shows you the character in the United States of America,” Funk said. “I don’t think the character resides in Washington DC. The character of our country exists right here, here in Liberty Hill and all the small towns. That’s where the heart of the community is and where you see the selfless service.”
That selfless service carries over into the importance of the United States’ all-volunteer force and where its oath lies, something Funk said is critical to the country.
“That’s what we’re here today for, to celebrate the veterans, to honor them and try to learn something from their sacrifices because all too often we seem to forget those sacrifices as we think about war,” Funk said. “The army that won Desert Storm so dramatically was an all-volunteer force. It took us 15 years by the way to get to that Army. But less than four-tenths of a percent serve the country in uniform now. That’s something to think about and maybe even worry about. I would still want these young people to come in from all around, not just from military families but from the population at large. I think the whole notion of selfless service is important, it is important for all of us to think about giving something back.
The oath, which Funk said is one most service members take for life, is also one not taken in support of a person or political party, but to something greater.
“It is an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America,” he said. “We don’t serve some king, we don’t serve some president, we serve you, us, we the people, and that’s an important differentiation. No other country has an oath like ours.”
A soldier’s travels
The sculpture traveled from Florence to downtown Liberty Hill, and the chore of moving and setting such a large, heavy piece was no simple task.
Liberty Hill Public Works Director Wayne Bonnet played a key role in bringing the sculpture to its new home, working closely with Ragan to plan the move and work through the trickiness of setting it, because it had to be lowered over the archway in front due to its size.
Bonnet made the transport arrangements for the sculpture including scheduling a crane to lower it into the park, and providing the items used to cover the sculpture for the unveiling. He was on-site when the sculpture left Florence, and again when it arrived in Liberty Hill, to be on hand to assist and take video of the process for historic purposes with a drone.