In August 2017, Chickamauga resident Jerry Haymons recalls walking through a small lot off of Cleburn and Shelby streets in Fort Oglethorpe in rubber boots. The lot was a swamp, and the water was up to his shins.
Two years later, the Fort Oglethorpe Veteran and Citizen Council, which Haymons heads, was able to transform that lot into Honor Park: A Tribute to Those Who Serve.
The citizens' group enlisted the help of The Arbor Day Foundation to figure out how to absorb the extra water in the low-lying area. The solution: weeping willows. These massive trees seek water and absorb more than the average tree, Haymons said.
The park features 14 dedicated trees, a Gold Star garden honoring those who lost their lives in military service and their families, and a pavilion.
"It's a place of tranquility," said Fort Oglethorpe Councilwoman Paula Stinnett, who first floated the idea for the park.
Memorial pavers dot the park and a U.S. flag now stands sentry. The flag was raised at the park's dedication Nov. 9, just ahead of Veterans Day. In attendance were special guests Rear Adm. Noah H. Long (Retired), the Alhambra Scottish Highlander Pipes and Drums group, a Rolling Thunder motorcade, and members of the Catoosa Chamber of Commerce and Vietnam Veterans Alliance 203.
The park honors not only military service members, but also first responders like police officers, firefighters and EMTs, service dogs, and citizens like teachers, Stinnett said.
"The branches of the trees represent the different branches of service," she said.
Haymons, 66, served four years in the Navy, four years in the Army, then went back to the Navy for an additional 16 years.
"I'd do it all again if I could," he said — though he hasn't left service by the wayside.
He and Stinnett previously worked together to establish Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3679 of Fort Oglethorpe and Rossville, and he again stepped up to help her with the park.
Earlier this month, Haymons accepted the 2019 Most Valuable Volunteer Organization award on behalf of the Veteran and Citizen Council during the Catoosa Citizens' and Veterans' Memorial's "Tribute to America" event.
"I'm just a citizen with some free time on my hands," Haymons said with a laugh.
He estimates over 100 volunteers have come out to help clean up the park and help with its design. As with the city's dog park, the city council allocated Honor Park $15,000 in 2017 for items like a public water fountain and flag pole, said Stinnett.
"The park is a celebration to all those who served," she said.
Email Sabrina Bodon at firstname.lastname@example.org.