Even though Don Witt’s father did not serve, he instilled values of patriotism, honor and respect.
“I have pictures of my dad holding me at a cemetery where we were celebrating Memorial Day,” said Witt, who served in the Marine Corps from 1967 to 1973. “We had family members who died in wars, so it had a lasting effect on me.”
When Witt moved to Lincoln, Calif., he learned there was no place to gather for Memorial Day ceremonies or other events to honor military members. But that has all changed now, thanks to Witt and a coalition of veterans service organizations including American Legion Post and Unit 264.
After multiple years of teamwork, the Lincoln Veterans Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day at the Placer County Veterans Monument in Lincoln, about an hour east of Sacramento.
The memorial, which is about 40 feet long and 11 feet high in the center, can accommodate the names of 1,249 veterans.
“Wow, this is real this impressive,” recalled Lew Forrest, American Legion Post 264 commander, when he first saw the memorial.
Forrest, a staff sergeant, served in the Army National Guard from 1991-2005.
“Memorial Day is a tough day for me, I see the names and faces,” he said. “It’s incredibly humbling to be a part of something to make it (the memorial) happen. Most Memorial Days when the firing detail shoots and taps are played, those are emotional times. I think of all those who gave their all for what we get to enjoy. Today is a celebration of the monument being put up, coupled with the melancholy and the respect that Memorial Day deserves.”
As vice president of the coalition for the past 18-plus months, Forrest focused on fundraising and community involvement. They accumulated around $200,000 in donations, some of which were from the Legion post.
“With the pandemic, it’s been challenging because traditional donation events have been cancelled,” he said, noting they were able to hold fundraising events like a BBQ takeout and a unique shredding event.
The post, coalition and VFW joined forces to rent a mobile shredding truck and invited the community to bring in documents to shred at $10 a box.
“It was a light lift on the work end but a good fit for the community, a good fit for the coalition and a good fit for the memorial. It was a triple win,” Forrest said.
Another coalition member is Melissa Washington, founder of the Womens Veteran Alliance, member of The American Legion and a Navy veteran.
“It was great to be part of the local veterans organizations that came together to form the coalition,” she said. “And then to work on raising funds to what is going to be a beautiful tribute to our veterans.”
While the memorial is in place, there are still opportunities to honor veterans on it.
“The monument itself is for all wars and conflicts, of all the branches, from previous to current,” Witt explained. “The plaques can be purchased by family members to honor those who have passed, or for those currently serving.”
Witt pointed out that every coalition representative had personal motivation for helping to make the memorial a reality.
“It has a different meaning for all of us. It’s profound stuff.”