By JEFFREY POWELL
Memorializing warriors killed in battle is as old as war itself. Throughout history the graves of fallen soldiers have held a sacred place in the hearts and minds of those left behind.
In a divided United States, organized women’s groups in the south were decorating soldiers graves before the end of the Civil War. Their unofficial holiday was referred to as ‘Decoration Day.’ Memorial Day was officially recognized on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order number 11, and was first observed on May 30, 1868. In May of 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Regardless of its inception date and place, Memorial Day is now a nationally-recognized holiday observed on the last Monday of May.
As Memorial Day approaches, many people in our area will visit and decorate local cemeteries while remembering loved ones that lost their lives in battle. Over time there was an effort to have memorial monuments that people could visit year-round to honor soldiers killed in action.
In the Panhandle, one of those locations is Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola. The park is home to several monuments including “Wall South.”
In 1997, a scale model of the Vietnam Wall, located in Washington D.C., came to Pensacola. Veterans of that conflict had stood vigil for the entire five-day visit of the “Moving Wall.” Those Veterans then decided that it was high time Pensacola had a monument to the Vietnam War. That decision was the start of a five-year effort to build their own permanent monument.
The Wall South Foundation was soon formed to oversee the building of the Wall South. The group entered an agreement with the city that ensured the upkeep of the area in exchange for the five-acre site. The Vietnam Veterans of Northwest Florida were soon to have their monument.
The park includes a World War I Memorial (relocated to the park from downtown Pensacola), a World War II Memorial, a monument dedicating the World War Two Submarine Lifesaving League and a children of Vietnam Veterans memorial.
The main attraction in the park is a one-half scale Vietnam Memorial Wall. The black granite wall is 256 feet long and consists of 32 panels per wing. Height at the center of the wall is 8 feet 2 inches and descends in height to two inches at the ends. The wall lists the names of all 58,219 men and women listed as KIA or MIA from the Vietnam War.
Anyone that has visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. can tell you what an impressive and moving experience it can be. The citizens of the Panhandle are fortunate to have a monument dedicated to military members willing to give their all.
The Wall South is located near the intersection of Bayfront Parkway and East Romana Street. For more information, see www.pensacolawallsouth.org.
A MARINE CORPS HELICOPTER is displayed above the one-half scale Vietnam memorial ‘Wall South.’ (Photo by Jeffrey Powell)