"Honoring the service and sacrifice of the Delaware heroes who fought and died to keep America free in the conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.” -- inscription on the new Iraq and Afghanistan memorial at Legislative Hall
Those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan now have a special place of honor in the Capital City.
A monument to Delawareans who served in the Middle East since August 1990 was unveiled during a rain-drenched ceremony Nov. 7 at Legislative Hall. The ceremony was preceded by a Veterans Day parade with veterans, local high school and college bands, re-enactors and classic military vehicles promenading through downtown.
The rain held off as flag-waving crowds greeted the marchers heading from the Duncan Center down Loockerman Street.
The day’s keynote speaker was U.S. Navy Reserve Capt. Robin R. Gibbs, a graduate of Dover High School and the University of Delaware. A certified nurse anesthetist, Gibbs deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, serving a year there as senior CNA in a 20-member combat medical support team. Gibbs now lives in Chesapeake, Va.
“It’s exciting to come back to Dover,” she said before the parade. “I’m a hometown girl, and it’s an honor to recognize the service of Delawareans with the dedication of this monument.”
Although their primary mission was to support naval special warfare teams in Afghanistan, Gibbs said the medical team treated many locals, helping to save lives and working to earn the trust of the Afghans. Gibbs earned a Bronze Star medal for her service.
“Years from now, if even one child remembers the Americans who came to help, that one child may be the one who makes a difference for their country, and that is, and continues to be, my prayer for the people of Afghanistan,” she said.
Her deployment taught her a lot about the men and women involved in what is now America’s longest war, Gibbs said.
“I served with many who have deployed as much as five times, and I couldn’t understand how they continue to do it, but now I do,” she told the crowd. “Most importantly every moment out there is about the safety and the support of that soldier and sailor who is serving next to you in defense of the ideals of our country. They are our family away from home.”
The day was special for her and for her fellow Delawareans, Gibbs said.
“So your loved ones’ sacrifice really did make a difference, and we honor that sacrifice today with the dedication of this memorial,” she said.
Since the first Persian Gulf War, which began with operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991, 21 Delawareans have lost their lives in the Middle East.
The unveiling was capped by the laying of two memorial wreaths and a 21-gun salute from the Dover Air Force Base Honor Guard, who stood unflinching in the rain for more than an hour.
Constructed with a gray granite centerpiece flanked by two slightly smaller white granite panels, it is engraved with the words, “Honoring the service and sacrifice of the Delaware heroes who fought and died to keep America free in the conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.”
It was created by William V. Sipple and Son of Milford from Vermont granite.
The monument was championed by members of the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs.
Commissioner Paul V. Lardizzone watched Delaware’s troops deploy and then return from the Middle East. Knowing there was no state-sponsored tribute to those veterans, he started researching other states for ideas. He then went to state Rep. Earl G. Jaques Jr., (D-Glasgow) with the proposal.
“He took a look at it and we discussed how we would do it,” Lardizzone said.
A retired Delaware National Guard brigadier general, Jaques said he did not want to repeat the mistakes of an earlier generation.
“I thought how we did not recognize our Vietnam veterans when they came home, and I did not want to have that happen a second time,” he said.
Jaques pushed the idea forward. A General Assembly committee in charge of maintaining the grounds approved the idea. Delaware Secretary of State Jeff Bullock, whose department oversees the veterans commission, approved the $34,000 for the memorial.
The center slab has the dedication and seals of all five military services along with an engraving of a helmet hanging on a rifle and a pair of boots, representing the fallen warrior.
The left panel is engraved with an outline map of Afghanistan and the words “Enduring Freedom,” the code name for operations there. The right panel has a map of Iraq, with notations for Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.
Another tribute to Delaware’s service members will be unveiled during ceremonies planned for 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11, at the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park, near the Kent County Administrative Complex.