Site Dedicated for Future Veterans Memorial in Wichita

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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One could say, we're all finding our way through life on different paths. For Anita Dixon, one of those paths has been a path to healing after her son, Sgt. Evan Parker, died in Iraq in 2005 while serving our country.

"My son was a true soldier. He believed in what he was doing," Dixon said. "His brigadier general called him the soldier that always did the right thing even when no one was looking."

Two years after his death, she took a walk on a path through Wichita's Veterans Memorial Park. On that walk, something, or perhaps someone, spoke to her and inspired her.

"I walked through the park and I just felt the presence and heard the echoes of all of those that have served and sacrificed," Dixon said. "And I just knew that Iraq and Afghanistan had to be here."

Here in the park, she wanted those who served in recent conflicts memorialized in stone like the 16 monuments already in place dedicated to those who served in conflicts of the past.

"I didn't want to wait and see this memorial built years and years and years after this conflict is over," Dixon said.

But when she proposed the memorial, some city leaders told her there wasn't any more space left in the park for future monuments.

"That's when I said, 'You're telling me there's no room for those that served and sacrificed in Iraq, that my son is not going to get a memorial?'" Dixon said.

She didn't take no for an answer.

Two years after officially beginning the journey, she laid a bouquet of flowers Sunday in Veterans Memorial Park, to dedicate the future site of the Operation Freedom Memorial.

The memorial she envisioned will be located in the park at Second and Greenway between the Vietnam War Memorial and the USS Wichita Memorial.

There will be a sculpture placed in the center of a 25-foot diameter circle which will be surrounded by three eight-foot black granite walls. The walls will feature the names of the nearly 100 Kansans killed in action in recent conflicts including operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and New Dawn.

It is expected to be constructed late next year as long as they have the funding.

"It's very personal, it's very emotional," Dixon said. "At the same time, it keeps my son and all of those on that wall honored and remembered."

To reach this point, she's had a lot of help from people in the community such as active service member Nick Williams.

In 2009, Williams went on a run down the same path that Dixon walked in 2007, finding similar inspiration.

"I just started wandering and reading," Williams said.

Just a few years later their paths would cross.

Williams now serves on the board of the Operation Freedom Foundation which is spearheading the project. Dixon is the foundation's President.

"This project is really going to help somebody cope," Williams said.

He says it will help somebody such as the person who left a symbolic cigarette pack and lighter next to the site's sign in the past couple weeks.

He says inside the pack was a note and a quarter. As a military symbol, the quarter means the person who placed it there served alongside the person they are honoring, Williams said.

"The note, to me, underscores the raw emotion that is still there," Williams said.

Williams and Dixon continue to work to see the project through.

The biggest challenge is they're still tens of thousands of dollars away from what they need for completion.

Dixon says her message on this Veterans Day is: "Please, help us build this."

She says she can only hope that if people walk in her shoes by taking the same stroll through this park that she did in 2007, they'll join her on the path to healing, and now more than ever, the path to remembrance.

"Please come down here (to the park) and just walk through it," Dixon said. "Feel the very presence of those who have given so much for our freedom."

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