The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and several other war memorials around the world celebrate and remember fallen soldiers.
The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial in Irvine pays tribute to soldiers who have been killed in either “Operation Enduring Freedom” or “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” It is located in Northwood Community Park on the corner of Yale Ave. and Bryan Ave. in Irvine and is the first official national memorial dedicated to soldiers fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The memorial consists of five rectangular “sentinels” covered in granite. Each granite panel is chronologically etched with 5,714 names and ages of soldiers killed in battle. Since there are soldiers continually dying in both Afghanistan and Iraq, two granite panels remain blank and will be updated quarterly to reflect the newly fallen soldiers.
A plaque on display at the Northwood Memorial reads, “May our fallen and wounded heroes who sacrificed to preserve our liberty and freedom know the depth of our gratitude.” The seals of the United States Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy are displayed on the plaque.
Jason Davis, a fourth-year literary journalism major and an Iraq war veteran explains:
“I don’t need to be celebrated or paraded around for,” Davis said. “If the city wanted to do more, they’d pressure UCI into starting ROTC and actually continuing the rich tradition of military in the city of Irvine. Instead of saying thank you, why not increase efforts and incentives and benefits for students and other adults to serve … to do more?”
Other students see a more substantial purpose to the war memorial.
“I think that war memorials are important reminders to our society of how many soldiers have suffered and died for the United States,” third-year dance major Katy Felsinger said.
Third-year biological sciences major Hakop Alajajyan explains, “Memorials aren’t supposed to be pretty. They’re there to send a message that these men and women are out there fighting every day for our freedom and our rights … memorials reiterate the sacrifice that our servicemen and servicewomen carry out everyday.”
Davis did see a very important message conveyed in the war memorial.
“The memorial serves as a visual for the current generation of soldiers,” he said, “so that when they see it, they know that the city is on their side. They’re willing to help and be a veteran-friendly city.”
Whether or not they agreed with the concept of war memorials, most Irvine residents and students who were questioned about the matter had one similar response to the Northwood Memorial — why Irvine? How is the city known for its quietness, safety, business centers and bland character the first in the nation to dedicate a war memorial?
Davis offers an answer to the puzzling question.
“Irvine and Tustin have very extensive military backgrounds,” Davis said. “El Toro Marine Corps Air Station was a major west coast installation … naturally, a lot of those soldiers retired here and are an influential part of the community.”
The idea of the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial was in fact initiated by members of the community who were former soldiers or relatives of soldiers who wanted to honor them. They gathered at Northwood Community Park annually and remembered the soldiers with wooden crosses and decorations. From this unofficial ceremony sprouted the idea of building an official memorial at that same park.
The chairpeople of the memorial wanted the memorial site to be “a place of gathering for families, community members and visitors to share in honoring men and women of the armed forces.”
Considering the prestige of the memorial, it seems that Irvine has succeeded in creating something lasting and worthwhile for an entire nation to enjoy.