JACKSONVILLE, N.C. --
Memorial Day is that brief pause in the year when Americans take the time to recognize the men and women who have selflessly given their lives in both the defense and pursuit of freedom. With each passing generation, thousands more are added to the list of those who have paid the ultimate price; a debt that can never be fully repaid.
However, those fallen heroes and their sacrifices are never forgotten, recognized through memorials in their honor. One such memorial was dedicated to the veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom/Global War on Terror during the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9133, Jacksonville, N.C. Chapter Memorial Day celebration, May 31.
“There are memorials for World War II veterans, Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, Grenada,” said Jack Tagmyer, manager of the Auto Body Hobby Shop aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and master of ceremonies. “Then there are the men and women who go to the Middle East for eight or nine months, come back, go back over, but what is there for them?”
It all started more than two months ago when retired Col. Terry Cahill uncovered an old rusty Soviet 122 mm howitzer D-30 in the tree line of the SR-10 range near Stone Bay. He along with Tagmyer and Marines from Company C, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division and 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division pulled out the howitzer and transported it to the ABHS, where employees and volunteers aided in its restoration.
Now it sits in the corner of the VFW parking lot; a tribute to those from Camp Lejeune who have and still are deploying to the Middle East.
“This is something the post has been trying to do for a long time – dedicate something to this generation of warfighters,” said Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Franklin, enlisted aircrew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River. “This really hits home because the actual howitzer was brought back by Camp Lejeune forces.”
Until recently the history of the howitzer was a mystery – until a stroke of luck brought its origin to light.
“A couple weeks ago I was talking to Lt. Col. (John) Yanvary over the phone and I brought up the memorial project and how it all started,” said Tagmyer. “He asked if it was a Russian howitzer and I said it was. He then went on to describe it in exact detail.”
As a captain, Lt. Col. Yanvary, executive officer of Marine Corps Security Forces Regiment in Norfolk, Va., was part of Task Force Ripper which was involved in the liberation of Kuwait during the first Persian Gulf War. When returning to Camp Lejeune, the recovered Russian howitzer became the maintenance responsibility of the command until it was given to Range Control for helicopter practice operations. How it became a forgotten relic bulldozed into the tree line, however, is unknown.
“This isn’t a rusting old piece of American ordnance sold as a museum piece,” said Tagmyer. “This is an antique which was captured in combat by elements from Camp Lejeune and donated as a memorial. It’s something special for those who are still over there fighting to this day for the past 10 years.”
The VFW, now responsible for the maintenance of the howitzer, has made plans to fence off the area around the memorial as well as have a marble stand with dedication plaque erected, dedicating the memorial to the Camp Lejeune warriors.
“This is a solemn, important occasion, one we shall long remember with pride for the small part we are contributing,” said Timothy Stony, commander of VFW Post 9133. “Those men and women are worthy of far greater recognition than mere words or markers.”
While it was Marines who recovered it, it was the Coast Guard detachment aboard base that played an instrumental part in making the memorial what it is today. Under the supervision of Capt. Steve Weiden, commanding officer of the Joint Maritime Training Center, guardsmen aided in the restoration and transportation of the howitzer to the VFW as well as providing a color guard for the presentation ceremony.
And so sits the first war memorial dedicated to those men and women who have fought in support of OIF/OEF/GWOT in Onslow County. As the conflict in the Middle East wages on, the community is far from forgetting the toll it has taken on service members, friends and families of the area, forever kept alive in the new VFW memorial.
“As an Iraqi War veteran, this means a lot to me as well as those who have given so much overseas,” said Sgt. James Tucker, patient with Wounded Warrior Battalion – East. “I’m proud that we are recognized here today, and that this memorial represents all that we’ve done.”