A local memorial project honoring the community’s most recognizable heroes recently gained a significant ally in its fundraising efforts: the Arizona American Legion.
Last month at Legion’s annual state-level convention, newly installed Commander Steve Aguirre announced that he’d selected the Southern Arizona Veterans and First Responders Living Memorial as the effort he’d support during his yearlong tenure.
According to Aguirre, the memorial is “quite extraordinary,” and the Legion is proud to be a part of the effort.
“I support it 100 percent,” he said. “And for me personally, it’s long overdue. It’s always been my desire to honor our veterans, and what better way to do that than to support this project.”
The local memorial is planned for a roughly 1.5-acre parcel of land donated to the cause by the Oro Valley Town Council at Naranja Park, 660 W. Naranja Drive. The memorial effort was imagined by longtime resident Dick Eggerding, who brought his idea to the town and was asked by council to assemble a task force of other town residents, local veterans, first responders and other interested parties.
The memorial will be a five-point, star-shaped concrete space to represent the five branches of the United States Armed Forces; a 24-foot-tall monument tower in the shape of a military medal with a tribute on the back; space for personal tributes in the form of brick pavers; walls to honor police, firefighters and other first responders; space to sit and reflect; and a “Pathway of Heroes.” The memorial will honor veterans and first responders from throughout Southern Arizona, including Fort Huachuca, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and communities in Cochise, Santa Cruz, Pinal and Pima counties.
Memorial task force member and Oro Valley American Legion Post 132 Commander Steve Didio delivered a presentation on the projects details to the state convention, and was elated to hear that Aguirre wanted to contribute to the cause. Didio said he briefed the state commander privately prior to making his big presentation, and was told the Southern Arizona memorial was one of several initiatives across Arizona being considered for the Legion’s aid.
Didio said he had a good feeling about their chances, but was still surprised to hear the good news.
“It feels great for the statewide commander to be supporting a predominately Southern Arizona project,” he said.
The Arizona American Legion has more than 120 member posts, all of which could be called upon to help, both through fundraising and volunteer efforts.
Speaking with Tucson Local Media last week, Aguirre said he was briefed before the formal presentation by Didio, and decided to lend the support of the Legion’s Arizona operations to the project because it was similar to one of his own ongoing efforts.
Aguirre is the president and CEO of The 911 Memorial Foundation, which operates the 911 Memorial Run. The mission of the 911 Memorial Run is “to erect a monument to honor the Arizona Veterans who have sacrificed their lives fighting the global war on terrorism since September 11, 2001.” The memorial run raises funds every year towards its own goal, and Aguirre said they would also contribute excess funds to the Oro Valley project. Aguirre said he would like to help the Oro Valley project cover ongoing maintenance costs. The 911 foundation will in turn have a presence at the memorial site.
“I think that working as a team is the way to go,” he said. “They need all the help they can get, and we need all the help we can get. Being associated with the living memorial is just another way to honor our veterans.”
While the addition of the Arizona American Legion and Aguirre’s foundation to the fundraising effort is no small accomplishment, the Southern Arizona effort has stayed busy in recent months by finding a variety of community partners to help spread its solemn mission across the region.
Help has come since the beginning; the task force received pro bono assistance from several design and site planning firms, including Norris Design and The WLB Group.
In the months leading up to council’s approval of the site plan, the task force added the support of Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general of the United States. A combat-decorated Vietnam veteran with a storied career in public service, Carmona recently became the task force’s honorary chair.
“First responders risk their lives every day for us,” Carmona said earlier this year. “I have had the privilege to be both a first responder and a soldier, my whole life I have been a first responder, and so I think that it is great that these people in Oro Valley have come together to make this happen.”
Locally in Oro Valley, the memorial has received glowing support from retired U.S. Army General, former Army Chief of Staff and current resident John A. Wickham, Jr.
Wickham said he sees the memorial as a reflection of the feelings of the American people, a representation of the gratitude felt towards veterans and all Americans who have “sacrificed and volunteered their time to keep our nation free and strong.” He said the memorial effort “is a wonderful thing” planned for the community that will add significant value to not just Oro Valley, but Southern Arizona as a whole.
Wickham said he attended a local event several years in a community with a large flagpole. At the base of the flagpole was a bronze plaque dedicated to veterans and all Americans who helped keep the flag flying. Into the gathering rode four horsemen, carrying a massive American flag, which was soon unfolded and flying high in the sky.
“I think that is what is going on with this new memorial,” Wickham said. “It’s another manifestation of that gratitude.”