UNC Charlotte students, faculty and Charlotte residents gathered on Monday to celebrate the opening of the University's new Veterans Park dedicated to past, current and future veterans.
The park, located beside the University Air Force ROTC building, is simple yet elegant. At its center lies a wall built in UNC Charlotte's distinct red bricks; at its top sets the words "DEDICATED TO ALL WHO SERVED." Just under are five black and gold plaques baring the name and tagline of each of the five branches of the US military. Brick pillars outline the perimeter of the park with the words "Veterans Park" engraved on them.
Christopher Orr, a former US Army staff sergeant, UNC Charlotte alumni and visionary for the park, spoke on what inspired him to design the park.
“I wanted to design a space on campus that was that dedicated to honoring those that the school was founded for: veterans,” said Orr. “With the help of many, I developed and designed a park that could serve as a place to recognize all students and staff who have served our country from all branches of the service, a place where all could come for reflection or for peaceful study.”
The ceremony started with a brief drill from UNC Charlotte’s ROTC color guard followed by Collin Fowler, a veteran and UNC Charlotte student, playing the national anthem on his trumpet atop a hill overlooking the park.
The anthem was followed by a short speech by William Wilson, director of Veteran Services and host of the event, introducing the park, its history and the other speakers.
“The journey to get to this point has been lengthy,” said Wilson, “This journey has been over three years since its inception, and that inception was far too long because this institution was founded to serve our institution 73 years ago.”
The park was proposed and approved in fall 2017. Over the next two years, the Veteran Services Office raised just under $250,000 for the project. Construction for the started earlier this year in May.
“We finished on time and on budget,” said Wilson. “Both are miraculous things at times.”
Elizabeth Hardin, Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs, spoke in Chancellor Dubois' absence.
“There are more than 700,000 veterans in the state of North Carolina, many of you here today are among them. We are the home of the fourth-largest contingent of active duty military in the US, some of you are among them.” said Hardin. “The defense industry is the second largest in the state of North Carolina, second only to agriculture. Many of you are a part of that. There are 540,000 jobs in North Carolina that come from the defense industry. 340,000 of which are in the private sector. More than thirty-billion dollars of personal income is derived from their presence in the state of North Carolina.”
Christine Davis, Dean of Students, spoke on UNC Charlotte’s history of educating and serving veterans.
“Our University has a strong tie to the military, as it began in September, 1946, as a small educational center to serve veterans returning from World War II.” said Davis, “Known then as the Charlotte Center, it was one of fourteen evening center colleges across North Carolina and hundreds across the country to meet the demands of veterans transitioning back to civilian life.”
“The presence of this park on our campus is a physical symbol of both our institutional history and continued commitment to serve our veteran students,” said Davis. “ I hope that this park will be a reminder to our entire community of the dedicated service performed by fellow forty-niners to protect our freedoms.”
Lawrence Battle, a UNC Charlotte student, veteran and president of UNC Charlotte's Student Veterans Association spoke on his own experiences as a student veteran.
“Earlier this year, many of us here today witnessed the groundbreaking for this veterans park,” said Battle. “As I’m ending my time here as a student this December, I have come to realize that UNC Charlotte, the veterans office and mostly the student veterans association has given me an outlet to be heard. This Veteran Park behind me adds another outlet for myself, my sisters and brothers in arms, both fallen and alive. Another place not to be heard, but to be seen."
“At times, the throws of life can prove to be challenging for many dealing with the unseen battles within,” said Battle. “Our park is going to be a place of solitude where we can escape when we just want to be and reflect."
The ceremony concluded with the five speakers cutting a large green ribbon officially opening the park.