HOOPER — Wednesday was no ordinary Fourth of July celebration in the small farming community of Hooper.
On this day, patriotism was at its highest as several hundred people showed up at the Hooper Park to witness the historic dedication of the new Freedom Military Memorial.
Veterans from all of the five military branches of service came to pay homage to one another and to those who went before them. Family, neighbors and friends watched as 18 veterans were given the honor of grand marshall in the annual morning parade.
Some donned the uniform they wore from their military days many years ago, but all felt the pride and sense of community that brought them together for this historic event.
Lawrence Stimpson was a sergeant in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division during WWII and spent most of his military time in Italy.
“It is a wonderful thing to be remembered, not just for myself, but for all of us ... those before us and those that come after us. It’s a wonderful thing,” Stimpson said.
With the creation and dedication of the monument, veterans and the community alike have a place to come and reflect on the memory of those who served in the military.
The project started nearly five years ago, when Bette Wilson visited the old memorial and realized that many names of people she knew had served in the military were missing. She decided to gather a team together that would help her see to it that all those from Hooper who had served in the military had their name on a monument.
On Wednesday, Wilson’s dream became a reality.
The monument now includes 1,053 names that are forever etched into four granite pillars, topped with photos etched in black granite of military personnel and equipment from WWI, WWII, the wars in Korea and Vietnam and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The old WWII memorial has been refurbished, as have the two military artillery guns that sit on either side of it.
Devin Taylor, project manager and owner of American Monument, designed and created the four monuments. Taylor said nearly $50,000 was raised for the memorial through generous donations, fundraisers, dinners, concession stands and events that Hooper residents supported.
John Stoddard was drafted into the U.S. Army and served with the 73rd Engineers in Vietnam.
“Too many people forget that when we came home, there were no parades and no appreciation. It hurt and it took a long time to come to grips with it. But we can never forget that freedom isn’t free. Forty-some years later, I now feel we are in dangerous territory and people cannot forget their responsibilities to keep this nation free. I feel this memorial will be a place to go and ponder that,” Stoddard said.
Guest speaker Sen. Orrin Hatch and Mayor Korry Green released 14 white doves from baskets in memory of those who had given their lives while serving in the military.
Hatch told the crowd it was a privilege to be with everyone for this dedication and said that he fondly remembers when in 1982, President Ronald Reagan visited Hooper Park to help him campaign for re-election to the U. S. Senate and to deliver a speech.
Hatch said he wanted to pay tribute to Bette Wilson and the many residents who joined with her to make this monument a reality.
“She had a dream and called upon many of you to plan and execute this vision for more than four years. The fruits of your labor are on display today for all to enjoy on this important celebratory day of our nation’s birth,” Hatch said.
As part of the dedication ceremony, skydivers from Ski Utah floated into the park with the American flag, Hooper Elementary students sang a song honoring the military, the community choir sang patriotic songs, retired U.S. Army Cpl. LaGrande Belnap offered a prayer, and highly-decorated veterans Harry Trease, C.J. Read and R. Michael Steoger talked to the crowd about what the memorial means to them.