By Miriam Raftery
January 29, 2011 (Alpine) -- Elected officials, tribal leaders, community members and veterans turned out this morning at a “Labor of Love” event to break ground for Alpine’s Wall of Honor.
Viejas tribal chairman Anthony Pico spoke movingly about his own military service in the Army and his memories of visiting the Viet Nam memorial in Washington D.C., where 13 of his friends’ names are inscribed. “For every friend who has fallen, there is someone who will remember them,” he said, expressing sorrow that his fallen comrades could not live into the autumn of their lives but instead, sacrificed their futures for our country. “They stayed forever young in my mind,” he said.
Viejas is among the major sponsors of the Wall, which has also had support from the Alpine Kiwanis, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Albertson’s, Supervisor Dianne Jacob, and many others in the community. “There are many heroes here today,” Chairman Pico said. “We value courage. We value strength, and we value peace,” said Pico, who noted that Native Americans have the highest rate of service in the U.S. military of any group of people.
His own memories of combat remain vivid even today, he said, adding that he will never again take life’s simple pleasures for granted. “I still carry those lessons and memories close to my heart.”
Herb Cawthorne, one of the driving forces building support for the wall, introduced Dan Foster, chairman of the Wall of Honor committee, as a “leader and a star—the heart and soul of this project.”
Foster expressed gratitude to all who helped make a dream that began five years ago a reality. “As I look out into this audience, I see heroes,” he said, then recalled a recent meeting with the late John Finn, a World War II veteran who was a hero at Pearl Harbor and earned the Medal of Honor. His voice caught as he recalled, “John Finn saluted me!” then revealed that Finn’s name will be the first to be inscribed on the Wall upon its completion.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who helped secure County support for the project, hoisted the first shovelful of dirt to break ground. Congressman Duncan Hunter, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, also spoke and at the event and participated in the groundbreaking. Chairman Pico dug out a ceremonial shovelful of soil, after which members of the public were invited to also help in the groundbreaking effort.
Karen Donahue led the audience in singing “God Bless America,” after which veterans spoke to the crowd—including Jack Roland, who was taken prisoner by the Germans during WWII.
“There aren’t very many POWs left,” Roland said. “I was one of eight out of 300 who made the hump and survived. I spent a year in a German prison camp.” For Roland, the Wall of Honor will have a personal meaning. “Some of my comrades names, probably a lot of them, will be on this wall.”