Military Matters: Veterans memorial planned

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MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - A non-profit is trying to raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to create permanent memorial to all veterans in east Mississippi. The scale of the task is big but so is the passion of the man trying to make it happen.

It's no secret how important the military is to our area.

"It has been on my heart to have a dedicated space developed to honor all the military here in east Mississippi and Meridian area," said Jeff Summerlin, president of the East Mississippi Veterans Memorial Foundation.

Now, a group is trying to create a memorial park to remember and celebrate those who serve.

"We asked to get a former air frame, RF-4C Phantom II aircraft, that the 186th Air National Guard unit, here in Meridian, Mississippi, actually operated for 11 years and we're going to put it on display here in the park," said Summerlin.

The plane will be the center piece of the park, which would also feature a pentagon-shaped plaza noting all five branches of the military, a freedom walkway explaining every conflict from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror, and a wall of remembrance, where individuals would be memorialized in inscribed black granite.

The foundation says it will educate the next generation about the sacrifices made for our freedoms.

"You get this information in a book but it seems to be a whole lot more relevant if they can come out and see 'well my uncle was there in Vietnam' or 'my grandfather'," said Danny S. Smith, board member of EMVMF.

The empty patch of land along Highway 11 might not look like much as it is but there are hopes that within a few short years, it could become a lasting memorial. But as with everything, there is a price tag.

"Our overall budget to make the whole park complete is around $400,000. Of course, the first part of that park is going to be the aircraft getting in here, which is about $70,000," Summerlin said.

The foundation is hoping the generosity of the public, both individuals and businesses, will help the financial side but there are other challenges, too. One of the biggest is time.

"We're scheduled to have them move the airplane in June, but if that doesn't happen because we can't get the money, then we have until September. After that, the whole idea might have to go up in smoke or at least the idea of having an airplane that we flew," Smith said.

Despite all this, Summerlin remains optimistic.

"It's going to take the effort of everyone coming together as a community to make it happen and I honestly think it will," said Summerlin. "It may take a little time and that's O.K. I feel confident."

If you want to donate to the East Mississippi Veterans Memorial Foundation, visit its website or Facebook page by clicking the attached links.