WSRE Presents a Documentary about Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park
Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park, airing Wednesday, November 5th at 7 p.m. on WSRE, is an original WSRE documentary about the history of how The Wall South and the park came to be, including archival photographs and interviews with veterans who were involved in making the dream come true. The Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park is a local landmark that is near and dear to the hearts of many in the Northwest Florida region. Narrated by former Florida Congressman Earl Hutto and local historian John Appleyard, the program reveals how the dream of a handful of local Vietnam veterans became a reality and expanded to honor veterans from all wars.
John Pritchard, President of the Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, is a Vietnam veteran who was a part of that dream. "There were tremendous fund-raising efforts," Pritchard stated. "The veterans ran for The Wall with 5k, 10k walks and runs, played ball for The Wall with softball tournaments, sold t-shirts, did bike runs. There was just a tremendous dedicated effort to make sure that this park was established to honor those who did not return from the war." Pritchard and his brother were both young men when they served in Vietnam, and both were wounded twice, receiving two bronze stars each. "Vietnam," Pritchard laughs, "That's where we always said we spent our high school trip." Pritchard walks to The Wall and touches a name. "This is Kenneth Hatcher," Pritchard quietly shares, his fingers rubbing the letters. "He and I attended high school together, played football together. He was with Special Forces in Vietnam and was killed in action in Cambodia. He received the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor."
There are many stories that are shared at The Wall. Bill Davis, who served in Vietnam in the United States Marine Corp as a Huey Door Gunner Crew Chief, has a story of his own. Davis was active in the efforts to establish the park and build The Wall South. He brought his parents, wife and children to the dedication ceremonies in October of 1992. "My mother told me that she watched me standing there at The Wall, and it hit her that I could have just as easily been a name on The Wall instead of standing there dedicating The Wall to those who had fallen. That really got inside of me," Davis shares, his voice filled with emotion, "Because they knew very little of what went on over there or what I did in Vietnam."
Randy New is the sculptor who created the small statue of the child that faces The Wall South, as if she is looking at the names. "My father was killed in Vietnam a few days before my sixth birthday," New says. He motions to the park. "My father's spirit is here. I wanted to do something, so I created this sculpture of a small child to represent all of those who had lost their fathers in Vietnam. I used my daughter for the model." The statue is the likeness of a small girl, wearing a military helmet and clutching a small doll. New motions to the statue and then to The Wall. "Because that's my daughter, and that's my father - this place is sacred to me."
Art Giberson is a Vietnam veteran and photojournalist who documented the creation and building of The Wall South in photographs - many of which are included in the WSRE documentary. Giberson, too, has names on The Wall that hold a deep and personal meaning for him. "At the dedication, it was wall to wall people. The drapes were removed and the names were revealed - all 58,000 plus names. People were crying. They touched the names. They left all kinds of things at The Wall. They just didn’t want to leave. The only thing they wanted to do was reach out and touch a name once they had found it. Words cannot describe the emotions," Giberson shares. "Every time I come down here, usually once or twice a month, I go to panel 12 and talk to Mr. Taylor," he says, motioning to the name 'Charles Taylor' - a Navy pilot Giberson knew in Vietnam who was killed during a mission. "It helps. Every Vietnam veteran should come to this park. A lot of Vietnam veterans have problems going to The Wall in Washington D.C. and coming down here to The Wall South, but I honestly feel that they need to come here. Walk down to those panels, talk to your fellow Vietnam vets. It helps. It really and truly does."
Robert Rasmussen, a Navy pilot who served in the Vietnam War, also feels a strong connection to the names on The Wall. "My very best friend and brother-in-law are on there," he explains. Rasmussen served as the sculptor for the five military statues that flank the WWII Memorial. The statues, modeled after veterans from each branch of the Armed Forces, bring out strong emotions in those who see them. "I’ve been down here for many occasions when people have been able to come up to these figures and relate to them. It’s a very satisfying feeling," he says. "This is a great tribute to the people who have served in the military here from Pensacola and throughout the country, really. I think it’s especially important that we continue to recognize these people because they have done something that is very difficult to describe and means more to this country than I think most people could ever imagine."
Rasmussen also sculpted two of the military figures at the Korean War Memorial, representing soldiers who served during that conflict. The third statue at this memorial, sculpted by Randy New, is of a soldier and a child. Tex Adkinson, a Navy pilot during the Korean War, shares that the addition of the Korean War Memorial, dedicated in 2007, means a great deal to him personally. "Someone remembers," Adkinson says, standing beside the bronze statue of the humanitarian figure – an American soldier carrying a small Korean child. "This is a place to remember a very tough war - much tougher than most people realize."
Although none of the soldiers who served during the first World War are still living, their descendants proudly remember their sacrifices. Joe Denmon, a Vietnam veteran from a long-time Pensacola family, stands beside the white marble WWI Memorial in the park, holding a photograph of his grandfather, Alphonse J. Barrios, a soldier in the 15th Field Artillery Division of the Army in 1914. "My grandfather was a wonderful man, a wonderful man," Denmon says proudly. "He served our nation in WWI, my father served in WWII and I served in Vietnam." Denmon looks out over the park and smiles. "This memorial to me, just stands proud for my city, my community, my country. It stands for those who cut the path before us so we can live free. Freedom isn't free!"
Art Giberson agrees. Coming down to park and seeing the memorials makes him proud and helps him deal with the painful memories of a war long ago. "It helps, it really does," Giberson says quietly. "Suddenly you're no longer a 65 or 70 year old man. You're a young kid again. You're a vibrant young man or woman; you are ready to do whatever is necessary to make sure that our country stays free."
Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park premieres on WSRE on Wednesday, November 5th at 7 p.m., with repeat airings on Nov. 11th at 9:30 p.m. and Nov. 21st at 8:30 p.m. This documentary is part of WSRE's month-long salute to veterans, with special local and national programs airing to honor those who have served in the armed forces, as well as those who wear the uniform and defend our country today. WSRE is proud to honor our veterans. In the words of President Ronald Reagan, "Our liberties, our values, all for which America stands - is safe today because brave men and women have been ready to face the fire at freedom's front. And we thank God for them."
For more information, visit the WSRE Web site at wsre.org or contact the producer of Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park, Jill Hubbs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 850-484-1236. Hubbs' father, Commander Donald Richard Hubbs, is a Navy pilot lost and still missing in action in Vietnam. His name is among the 58,256 names etched on The Wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. as well as on The Wall South.
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