After days of rain, the clouds picked the perfect time to break last Thursday morning, in time for the dedication of Veterans Memorial Park of Beacon Hill.
Overlooking the windy Gulf of Mexico, visitors, veterans, and county officials were on hand to dedicate a piece of ground for the nation’s, and the county’s, veterans.
While the park was renamed to memorialize veterans nearly a decade ago, the park only gained momentum four years ago when the county was awarded a National Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) grant for $800,000.
That grant has paid for an almost complete overhaul of the park and the addition of a stone-and-steel memorial amphitheater.
“It is a very, very great day for Gulf County; the veterans and the citizens of Gulf County,” said Joe Paul, the county’s veteran’s service officer as he opened the ceremony.
The Tyndall Air Force Base Honor Guard was on hand to present the colors, with Brooke McMillian singing a rousing rendition of the national anthem.
Col. Michael Valle, of the 101st Air and Space Operations Group, was the honorary speaker of the day and opened up by thanking all the veterans in attendance.
“There’s a saying that security is like oxygen,” Valle said. “People tend to take it for granted when they have it, but they can’t live without it.
“Our veterans have provided the oxygen of security to the American people, to people all around the world, and our nation owes you a profound debt of gratitude.”
Valle noted that just 6 percent of the population has served in the U.S. military.
While the threat to America from terrorism seems high, Valle believes that the homeland is safe because of the American veteran.
“Despite these threats, the American people are as secure as we have ever been in our nation’s history, thanks to the service and the sacrifice of our veterans and their families,” said Valle.
Returning to the podium, Paul turned to thank 90-year-old WWII veteran, Teddy Mariolis, as jets from nearby Tyndall could be heard flying overhead.
“He has from day one followed this through. He’s advocated for this park,” Paul said of Mariolis.
Paul went on to thank those that have worked on the park before comparing the characteristics of the memorial with veterans.
“All these characteristics can be said of the American veteran,” Paul said. “An unyielding firmness, endurance to the end of the mission, strength, and steadfastness, and ruggedness.”
Paul went on to invite the entire Gulf County community to come and enjoy the new Veterans Memorial Park of Beacon Hill.
“There is a closeness we can feel at this sacred place,” Paul said. “We are surrounded by the spirits of those who have served our country, and who have sacrificed so much for the freedom we enjoy here this day.”