When the Army dedicated a memorial in 1995 to special operations soldiers killed in Vietnam and other conflicts, organizers figured three bronze plaques would be plenty of space to engrave the names of the fallen.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan changed that.
Nine years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the US Army Special Operations Command has revamped its memorial, adding granite panels for the names of the fallen and providing room for expansion for at least 20 years.
"Since 9/11 we've had a lot of soldiers that have paid the ultimate sacrifice and it is time to notch it up another level," said Col. Frederic Drummond, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command chief engineer, who oversaw the project.
The Army Special Operations Command has added the names of more than 200 soldiers killed in combat to the wall.
"We took our casualty rates as of now and put them out 20 years. Hopefully it will last 40 or 50, but if we go at the rate we are now, it will last 20 years," said Daniel Telles, an art director at the US Army Special Operations Command history office who designed the new memorial.
The United States has lost more than 4,000 soldiers in Iraq and more than more than 1,000 in the Afghanistan war, including deaths that occurred outside those countries but are still considered part of the war effort.
The Army Special Operations Command isn't the only unit squeezed for memorial space. The 82nd Airborne Division's memorial obelisk at Fort Bragg honoring fallen soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan filled up in 2008 and was expanded to include a granite wall, funded by donations. The names of soldiers who die in service are now engraved on the wall instead of the obelisk.
The new special operations memorial cost more than $350,000, according to Drummond. Most of the money was raised by the USASOC Soldier, Family and Command Support Association through individual donations ranging from $50 to $250 dollars.
Retired Col. Andy Milani, president of the association, said the commander of Army special operations, Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, approached him and his group about raising the money. The group raised enough money to not only help fund the construction, but also maintain it for years to come.
"We wanted to create a memorial that was much more fitting to honor the fallen soldiers," Milani said.
The old wall, originally adorned with three bronze plaques, had grown to 10 with the names of the dead now. The plagues' colors varied, because of the way bronze ages. When Mulholland saw the wall, he ordered a facelift.
The new memorial wall has a more solemn look, with the names of the more than 1,000 fallen special operations soldiers killed since the Korean War engraved on ten black granite panels. Above the panels, in gold letters, is written: "In Memory Of Our Fallen Special Operations Soldiers." The black granite facade resembles the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.
Telles said his initial designs lacked something, and Mulholland wanted something on top of the wall to serve as a beacon. Telles designed a massive eagle at the edge of a shield. The sculpture was made from the ten bronze plates from the old wall.
"That was almost magical because the plates fit it perfectly," Telles said.
Lorenzo Ghiglieri, a renowned sculptor who has pieces displayed in the White House, Vatican and Kremlin, was chosen to make the eagle based on Telles design. He served as a machine gunner on a destroyer during the Korean War and was drawn to the meaning of memorial as a tribute to the fallen soldiers.
"The granite is just granite and the bronze is just bronze," Ghiglieri said. "This is a memorial that defines the heroism and the sacrifice that brings this country to its greatness."
The memorial wall stands in front of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command headquarters building at Fort Bragg and serves as a centerpiece of the command's memorial plaza. It is to be formally unveiled during the command's memorial observance May 27. Hundreds of special operations family members and veterans are expected to visit Fort Bragg for the event.
"The goal is to absolutely show them we honored the sacrifices of our fallen warriors," Drummond said. "I think without a doubt they are going to be impressed."
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