John Cordova’s dream of an El Dorado Hills Veterans’ Memorial came one large step closer to reality last week when the Fallen Warriors Memorial organization unveiled the design for the memorial, a 1.2 acre park where visitors will take a “100 year journey” through the conflicts that have shaped the nation.
The park and memorial are located inside Promontory Park, on Alexandra Drive in western El Dorado Hills.
Cordova traces his activism to 2004, when Lance Corporal Brad Shuder, an Oak Ridge High School graduate, was killed during operation Iraqi Freedom. The two first met when Cordova coached Shuder in youth soccer. They became fast friends when they later worked together as referees.
“When I left Vietnam I thought at least I’d never lose another friend to war,” said Cordova in a 2010 interview. “Then Brad died. I was devastated.”
Cordova channeled his emotions into something positive, and decided to make sure Shuder would never be forgotten.
With help from friends in the Marine Corps League, he formed the Fallen Warriors Memorial organization to fund a scholarships and install plaques at local high schools in memory of graduates who’ve lost their lives in service to their country. Each school also dedicates one football game each year to their fallen warriors.
But Cordova wanted to do more. He wanted to create a permanent local memorial to all the soldiers who never came home.
Cordova suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome, and admits that his tolerance for frustration is low. He depends on the support of friends and fellow veterans to fulfill his vision. Many were on hand Thursday, including Robert Leon, who has been at Cordova’s side from the beginning, and now chairs the Veterans Memorial Executive Committee. Past Rotary Club of El Dorado Hills President Kathy Witherow and decorated local veteran Dick Grinnell are co-chairs.
During the ceremony Witherow commended Cordova’s “simple but unyielding pressure.”
The design carries an estimated $2 million price tag. Leon remains unfailingly optimistic that local veterans will open their checkbook in support of the project.
Architect Bob Diesel of Anova Nexus, a Vietnam veteran, took podium and explained that the memorial’s was designed to be educational. He thanked general contractor Mark Foltz of Otto Construction for his work as project manager in the design phase. Diesel will also be managing the project as it enters the construction phase.
Landscape Architect Jay Beals of Beals Alliance not only designed the memorial, but personally raised $1,600, which he presented in a large check.
Other members of the design team include landscape architect Heather Mazzanti, electrical engineer Chuck Pasillas, civil engineers George Warren and C.J. Smith, engineer David Irons and CAD specialists Arthur Laarveld and Philip Husak.
Bill Roby, the executive director of the El Dorado Community Foundation, is serving as the as the group’s fiscal agent. Legislative assistant Maria Kennedy is helping raise state and federal funds for the project. Locally, fundraisers Lory Hensley and Terry DeBencik volunteered their talents.
The committee has targeted Sept 2 for the ground breaking, and hopes to complete the project by Memorial Day 2012.
After the unveiling, Beals took the 30-or-so attendees on a virtual facility tour, describing a huge see-through globe at the entrance, and the walk-through exhibits describing America’s conflict history. Exhibits include a World War I trench, a landing craft interaction, and dynamic exhibits on the wars in Korea, Vietnam and the Cold Wars.
Beals pointed out the empty exhibits planned for the memorial. “I hope we never need them, but if we do, they’re there.”
The final design will depend on contribution levels. Beals wistfully spoke about getting enough donations to install life-size bronze statues or a memorial wall.
Afterward, Cordova sat down with Village Life and said the whole experience left him emotionally drained, despite the fact that he has largely stepped aside to focus on the Fallen Memorial Scholarship activities.
He worried that the current generation of Afghanistan veterans would be forgotten, like the Vietnam veterans before them. “Well not me, and not anyone who experiences this memorial,” he said, then repeated, half to himself and half to the universe. “Never forget. Never ever.
“I had this idea when Brad died,” he continued. “But I never dreamed we might be able to do this much, especially in this economy.”
Gesturing to his friends and fellow committee members he said, “We have all these people to thank.”
Early in the Thursday afternoon proceedings, Oak Ridge Junior Teagan McLarnan was awarded $100 for her logo design for the memorial. After hearing the speakers, she approached one of the organizers and donated her winnings to the fundraising campaign.
“I heard the guys talking and they were so inspiring,” Teagan explained. “It just moved me. I never knew…”