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West Valley City Journal

A place of remembrance opens to honor Utah veterans

Dec 01, 2021 03:11PM ● By Darrell Kirby

The Memorial Wall contains the names of 2,900 Utahns killed while serving in the United States Armed Forces. (Darrell Kirby/City Journals)

By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]

Joe Day ran his right hand along several names imprinted on the Memorial Wall of the new Utah Veterans Memorial in West Valley City on a cool, cloudy Veterans Day in November. 

An Army veteran from 1990 to 2013 during which he trained Afghan troops from 2006-07, he stood in silence as he looked at the names of some comrades he served with in Afghanistan, including some who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to America. “It’s wonderful to see them memorialized like this,” Day said. “It brings back a flood of memories, and I’m just proud that they sacrificed and served the way that they did.” 

A ceremony was held on Nov. 11 to officially open the Utah Veterans Memorial. What was three acres of vacant land south of the Utah Cultural Celebration just six months ago is now a monument of remembrance for about 2,900 Utahns who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces in military conflicts from World War I to the Global War on Terror that started in the 1990s. 

Highlighted by the 75-foot-long, 8-foot high Memorial Wall, the plaza is surrounded by U.S flags and those of each branch of the military. Twenty-nine benches representing each of Utah’s counties are placed around the site to allow for visitors to take the time to remember the service of the men and women who went to war and never made it back or those who returned with physical and mental scars.  

The idea of a Utah Veterans Memorial was largely spearheaded by West Valley City Mayor and Air Force veteran Ron Bigelow. He gauged the interest of several cities in Salt Lake County before it was determined that West Valley City was the best place for it. Addressing a crowd of veterans, state and local government officials, and U.S. Reps. Burgess Owens and Chris Stewart of Utah, Bigelow said that while other Utah cities and towns have places to recognize veterans and war dead from those local communities, the new memorial in West Valley City has a broader focus. “We wanted to (honor) all of the veterans from the state of Utah who had lost their lives in combat.” 

Bigelow praised the fundraising efforts that resulted in the $1.3 million in mainly private and business donations to finish the first part of what is planned to be a three-phased project over the next few years as additional money is raised. “We’re going to move from this to building a pavilion for groups to gather, we’re going to put monuments up for different conflicts, and eventually we’ll have a building where veterans can congregate, where we can have occasional exhibits to remember the role that those who preserve our freedoms have played in our country.”

Rich Beaudoin of West Valley City joined with dozens of other people in strolling the grounds of the plaza and looking at the long list of names on the memorial wall. He served 26 years in the Navy. “I think this is an awesome tribute. I hope a lot of people can come and see this.” 

When asked what feelings came to mind as he scanned the names, Beaudoin choked back tears. “Sacrifice of the families,” he replied. “Each one of these names impacts the timeline of the world. Maybe they could have been the father of a couple of doctors who cured something.” 

Day said visiting the memorial wall was worth it. “It’s going to mean the world to a lot of veterans and to a lot of families that can come here and remember their loved ones.” 

“We hope it will be a place of contemplation to help us never forget the debt we owe to them (veterans) for preserving our freedoms and the very lives we live today,” Bigelow concluded.

The memorial was designed by EDA Architects and built by Okland Construction of Salt Lake City.