The war on terror in Afghanistan is now the nation’s longest running war. But the United States has been involved in many more conflicts over the centuries.
Operation Neptune Spear. Operation Deny Flight. Operation Praying Mantis. The Invasion of Grenada. The Berlin Blockade. These lesser-known names are among the 26 conflicts noted on the Committed Forces Memorial, a collection of granite pedestals surrounding a bronze globe just inside the entrance to the Hillsborough County Veteran’s Memorial Park in Tampa.
Remembering the men and women who fought and died in those conflicts and major wars is the mission of Veteran’s Memorial Park and Museum, said Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Walter Raysick, past president of the Hillsborough Veterans Council.
It was members of the Veteran’s Memorial Park and Museum Committee who realized the smaller conflicts needed recognition.
“One of our members is a former special forces, Army, and in discussions one day he said, ‘You know, we’ve got to recognize these brush fire wars, things that didn’t hit the big banner headlines,’” Raysick said..
The Committed Forces Memorial was created to include military skirmishes from the early 1800s through the present – from the Barbary Wars to the "Blackhawk Down" event in Somalia.
And five more pedestals will soon be added, Raysick said, to the collection of 20 memorials included in Hillsborough County’s five-year plan for the memorial, located at 3602 U-S Highway 301.
Ten already are built. And the county is spending more than $1.7 million to build roads, picnic shelters, restrooms and to contribute to additional memorial construction.
On the five-year plan are additional memorials, recognizing World War I, the Gulf War, POW/MIAs, and Purple Heart and Medal of Honor recipients.
“That takes care of those memorials that are funded, designed and approved for construction,” Raysick said. “The remainder is the Seminole Indian Wars, World War II, the Civil War and Afghanistan.”
Raysick said volunteers have adopted individual memorials and helped to raise money for design and construction. So far, those adopted include memorials recognizing the Iraq War, the Vietnam War, the Korean War from the 1950s and the Spanish American War from 1898.
Raysick is a Vietnam veteran, but his favorite memorial is “The Field of Honor,” where small American flags flutter in the wind on a plaza dominated by a granite marker with the names of those killed during Operation Enduring Freedom/Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.
“It’s a living memorial,” Raysick said. “The Field of Honor represents over 6,800 (people) who have died in the war on terror. Every quarter, I read those names. I raise those figures. And I tell the people that are there, ‘This is how many died.”
As past president of the Hillsborough Veterans’ Council, Raysick said the number of memorials does not dilute the impact of the park. Every one matters.
"Somebody in Hillsborough County died serving their country," he said. "And that’s the whole purpose of this park is to honor those who have served."