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Georgia's terrorism memorial is stunning, thought-provoking

Mary Ann Anderson, Tribune News Service on

Published in Travel News

Some of the panels have intentionally been left blank, as the war goes on and on, sometimes, it seems, with no end in sight. Plans are to hold annual ceremonies to add names to those empty panels.

"Unlike so many other memorials that are dedicated long after the end of the war, we dedicate this memorial in the middle of deadly conflict," says Abizaid. "We pray that that the names to be added are few, but we understand that the conflict in which we are engaged remains difficult and dangerous."

At the center of the memorial is a five-sided platform paying tribute to those who were killed in the Pentagon. Atop the platform is a bronze figure, astonishing in detail down to the shoelaces, of Spc. Ross McGinnis of Knox, Pa., a Medal of Honor recipient whose award was given posthumously. (McGinnis died in Iraq in 2006). Eight other bronze statues flank that of McGinnis and represent an infantry squad. Tom and Romayne McGinnis, the fallen soldier's parents, were among the Gold Star families who traveled to Columbus for the event.

The memorial is wedged between the National Infantry Museum, which opened in 2009, and the Vietnam Memorial Plaza that includes the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall, a three-quarter scale model of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.

The Vietnam Wall replica, like its counterpart in Washington, is also engraved with the names of more than 58,000 servicemen and servicewomen who died or were declared missing in Vietnam.

The Global War on Terrorism Memorial has a fitting place at the museum, which CNN Travel declared one of the top military museums in the world. Since it opened, it has seen some 2.5 million visitors, with Roy and me among that number on several occasions.

The museum, whose front looks deceptively close to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello with its round rotunda, is perched high on a hill overlooking Inouye Field, where Fort Benning basic training graduation ceremonies take place just about every Thursday and Friday morning.

The entire museum complex, which one guide calls "the Smithsonian of the Army," is huge at 190,000 square feet, and from its bronze "Follow Me" memorial of a charging infantryman standing sentry under the rotunda to a series of galleries and exhibits filled with a colossal collection of artifacts that recognizes the Army infantrymen, those grunts, the foot soldiers, the battleground warriors who stood on the front lines of war. Among its showpieces is the "Last 100 Yards," an upward sloping ramp surrounded by 360-degree dioramas featuring scenes of infantrymen from America's greatest wars beginning with Yorktown and meandering through 200 years of battles in France, the Philippines, South Korea, and Vietnam to Iraq.

As the ceremony to dedicate the museum's newest memorial draws to a close, the gray skies fill with deep, pulsating hums of three Black Hawk helicopters from the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade of Fort Benning. The Black Hawks whirl and skim over the crowd in a "missing man flyby" to symbolize those who died in the war on terrorism, and I think it a fitting salute to the fallen and their families honored that day. "Let us resolve that their sacrifice be meaningful to our children and our children's children," Abizaid says as the clouds finally begin to part and the first sunbeams of the day shine on the memorial. "At the same time, let us thank those still serving and encourage those willing to serve in the years ahead because our ideals, no matter how noble, will be challenged and our way of life will come under threat."

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