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'We don't have to forget what they mean to us': Spokane Valley unveils new Veterans Day memorial ahead of Memorial Day

Spokesman-Review - 5/25/2024

May 24—Spokane Valley's Balfour Park consisted of little more than a grassy field, volleyball courts and a playground next to an adjacent vacant lot for years.

Prior to its park designation, the land once housed the city's first mall in the 1980s and '90s.

The property off Sprague Avenue will see more change in the coming years, including its newest feature unveiled Friday morning: a monument honoring veterans and their families.

Seven towering concrete pillars, bearing brass insignias of each branch of the military and the Prisoners of War/Missing in Action flag, now welcome visitors at the southern entrance.

Around 100 community members, veterans, elected officials and current candidates for office gathered in the park Friday morning for the dedication of Spokane Valley's Veterans Memorial. Attendees included almost every representative for the Valley at the city, county and state level, including state Sen. Mike Padden, state representatives Suzanne Schmidt and Leonard Christian, County Commissioner Mary Kuney, and past and present city council members.

"This is such a great place for reflection, for silence and for prayer to our Lord for all the blessings that we have," Padden said, noting more than 45,000 veterans live in Spokane County.

"One of the goals of this memorial is to celebrate the power of lifting each other up in times of need. It also will inform and teach our community about the historical grand contributions of our military, and recognize the military's commitment to our nation," he added.

The memorial is part of a larger effort to transform Balfour Park into a community gathering place at the heart of Spokane Valley, said Glenn Ritter, a senior engineer for the city. Ritter serves as a project manager for the ongoing effort to turn the park and once empty lot into a multiuse recreational space with pickleball courts, a splash pad and more.

"To see it actually be developed, and the potential future elements, is just amazing," Ritter said ahead of the ceremony Friday.

City manager John Hohman said the city covered part of the costs for the memorial, but the feature would not have been possible without support from the Valley's state legislators. Padden helped secure state funding for the project, with assistance from Schmidt and Christian in the House. The 141st Air Refueling Wing out of Fairchild Air Force Base provided assistance with the design.

"I think this is something that is going to be a great focal point for our community," Hohman said. "And I'm really excited that it's here."

In front of the pillars is a rock bed "Never Forget Garden" filled with lavender, tulips and a small stone marker commemorating the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The garden is one of 25 such in the Spokane area and more than 600 nationwide, and was provided by the Jonas Babcock chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Rae Anna Victor, incoming regent for the chapter, said the Spokane area has the highest concentration of Never Forget Gardens in the country.

Councilman Rod Higgins, the only veteran on the city council, said younger generations may take for granted the sacrifices and contributions made by those in the military. When he joined, the military was not as volunteer-based as it is now.

Higgins said recognizing the value of those who served is always a good thing, and the memorial will be one of several features at the newly renovated Balfour Park. He looks forward to the project's completion one day.

"The entirety of the park, especially with this, means we're coming of age, we're maturing as a city," Higgins said.

Army veteran Jim Devaney, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Cpt. James R. Shively Post 1345, was among the dozens of veterans in attendance Friday. Devaney is a member of the Spokane Area Veterans Honor Guard, which performed a 21-gun salute, a presentation of the colors and a rendition of taps with University High School JROTC cadets and the Army Honor Guard.

Devaney said it was great to see a large turnout at the dedication, and that having a memorial in such a prominent position shows the community really cares about veterans.

"I think it means a great deal to veterans in the Spokane Valley," Devaney said. "This little park is great. It's nice to have a community come out to represent and support us."

Devaney has been involved with the VFW for a while. It helps him stay engaged with his community in his retirement, support veterans in need and connect with peers over shared experiences. He said the VFW's community service efforts are one of the most rewarding aspects, because they go far beyond veterans — his post donated 14,000 pounds of food and supplies to an area food bank earlier this month.

"You have a commonality," Devaney said. "Even if the fella was never in a war zone, there's still commonality of service and camaraderie."

Navy and Air Force veteran Rick Mattausch, who leads the veterans honor guard and serves as commander of VFW Post 11326, said the ceremony was a rare public glimpse at the work the honor guard does year-round to honor veterans and their families.

Mattausch said the group performed the same military honors it did Friday morning at more than 280 funerals last year. They've attended 16 funerals just in the last week.

"We were able to do this event today at the memorial for the public," Mattausch said. "To remind them of what our veterans have done to preserve our way of life. We don't have to forget what they mean to us. We lost some of our very finest people."

Mattausch said there was widespread support for the memorial among area veterans, evident in the several honor guard volunteers who wanted to participate in the dedication. He noted the state commander of the VFW, Craig Dougherty, traveled from the West Side to be in attendance Friday.

He hopes the memorial is celebrated and honored by the community for years to come, and impresses upon younger generations the value of the sacrifices of those who served.

"We can't let them be forgotten," Mattausch said. "If you visit with these veterans, you understand what they've done and all they've given up during times of war to protect our country.

"This monument is here to bestow our gratitude for what they give."

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