On a nippy Veterans Day morning Friday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Montgomery officials celebrated the completion of Veterans Plaza, Silver Spring’s tribute to veterans and the cornerstone of the downtown urban area.
The plaza’s finishing touch — a veterans memorial by a Frederick County artist — was unveiled at a one-hour ceremony. The completion of the plaza serves as an important milestone in the decades-long process of redeveloping and urbanizing downtown Silver Spring.
In the 1980s, the area entered a lull after major department stores had left. Numerous debates followed on how to redevelop the area. One of the results was the 1998 demolition of the Silver Spring Armory, which was originally built in 1911, moved to another location in 1927 and served as an homage to veterans, especially those from the National Guard.
The demolition drew the ire of some community activists. County officials, who wanted to develop the area as a downtown space and create a town center, made plans for a plaza close to the Armory site that would also honor veterans.
The unveiling “is sort of completing a circle,” said County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who served as an Army captain during the Vietnam War.
Overlooking the plaza’s open space and ice rink, the memorial by artist Antonio Tobias "Tony" Mendez consists of three glass panes with bronze panels serving as bases. Etched onto the panes were excerpts from about 30 letters sent and received by veterans throughout the nation’s history. Laying etched across the top of the right-most pane was a famous line from a letter by George Washington: “Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose.”
The bronze panels feature images from Arlington National Cemetery, Fort McHenry, the Battle of Burnside at Antietam and the Silver Spring train station. The sculptures also feature images of the two former Armories.
Van Hollen spoke briefly at the ceremony, urging the public to show their honor to veterans through deeds. He apologized for having lost his voice. He said he has been using it a lot the last few days “trying to talk sense on that joint committee you may have heard about,” referring to the debt supercommitee in Capitol Hill.
Several veterans came to Friday’s cermony, many in uniform, representing the seven branches of the military. Among them was Capt. Jack Hewitt, who was instrumental in the planning of Veterans Plaza and whose father worked as a National Guard lieutenant in the original Silver Spring Armory.
Hewitt, one of seven brothers who fought in the Vietnam and Korean wars, said he is proud of being a veteran and of the county finishing Veterans Plaza.
“To be here as the county provides this replacement [to remember] all the veterans in the county, state and country, I can do no more than to say thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said.