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Rain, tears abundant at Veterans Park dedication

CONWAY—Even with dark skies and heavy rain, the spirit of patriotism prevailed here.

On Saturday, citizens, guests and local government officials stood witness as the Conway Veterans Park was officially dedicated.

An estimated 300 people turned out for the event to see local war veterans’ names engraved into bricks and participate in the ceremony’s activities.

The park, which sits next to the Town Hall on U.S. 158, devotes a place for patriotism, reflection and honors the names of 262 local war veterans featured on the bricks of the park.

Among the speakers for the program was area war veterans Charles Youse and James A. Woodard, as well as the guest speaker, retired Brigadier General David L. Johnson.

One of Conway’s last living World War II veterans, Andrew Maddrey, was also on hand for the day’s celebration.

“Today we celebrate freedom,” said Conway Mayor Brian Bolton as he welcomed guests to the park. “Nevermore has our freedom been so precious.”

Bolton said freedom is not instilled in bloodlines where it can be passed from generation to generation, but rather it needs to be taught.

He noted the many men and women who have fearlessly served the country.

“Their bravery is what makes them our heroes,” said Bolton.

Retired Navy Captain Woodard spoke of how important it is for the next generation to learn about the veterans of past wars as the numbers of “The Greatest Generation” dwindle.

He noted the millions of men and women who have served in the United States military.

We need to take every opportunity to make sure the veterans are not forgotten,” said Woodard.

Woodard encouraged strengthening programs geared toward veterans needs, like education and adult senior care.

He urged people to not let future generations forget about veterans.

General Johnson made the distinction between Memorial Day and Veterans Day by saying that on Memorial Day the country remembers those who have fallen, but Veterans Day was specifically to commemorate those who are still here and continue to serve.

“Veteran’s Day is to honor and celebrate the living,” said Johnson.

Johnson pointed out that we live in troubled times, but with the devotion of our military, the country will overcome.

“We will prevail, but it will require dedication, full commitment and the willingness to win against a very patient enemy,” he said. “The memorial we are dedicating here today captures that honor and dedication.”

He said the memorial was a “vision place of souls” where people could gather to reflect.

“This is a special place of remembrance,” he said.

Willis Hare Elementary students Sterling Vaughan, Matthew Wheeler, Jontavious Bowers and Jordan Harrell read the names of the 262 names engraved into the bricks of the park.

One of the most poignant moments was the unveiling of a statue honoring those that had fallen.

The piece, featuring a gun holding up a helmet, was chosen and purchased by Winfred “Red” Outland Sr. specifically for the park.

Unfortunately, Outland passed away one week before the statue arrived.

Outland’s widow, Janie Martin Outland, wiped away tears as her family took their place next to the statue for the unveiling.

Also unveiled at the ceremony was five granite stones emblazoned with the different military branches.

After closing remarks, many took the invitation to tour the park.

Despite another down pour from the unforgiving skies, people crowded around the engraved bricks, umbrellas and small American flags in hand, to search for and point out their loved ones’ name.

Lunch plates by Whitley’s Bar-B-Que were available for purchase after the ceremony.