Ceremony dedicates new county Veterans Memorial at airport

Imperial Valley local Joaquin Villegas initiated the idea for the county’s Veterans Memorial as his Eagle Scout project in 2011, which has now evolved from a blue print into a concrete standing structure. The memorial, located at the Imperial County airport, was dedicated Nov. 10 in a Veterans Day ceremony.

IMPERIAL – An Imperial County Veterans Memorial ceremony was conducted Nov. 10 at the Imperial County Airport with residents and veterans invited to participate in a Dedication Ceremony explaining the historical background, purpose and significance of the concrete tribute.

The idea behind the memorial was inspired by Joaquin Villegas as his Eagle Scout project which he initiated in 2011, but could not begin implementing until 2015, according to organizers.

“On October 19, 2015, I received an email from the Veteran’s Service officer Roberto Avila,” explained Kim Benson. “Jesus (Joaquin’s father) was requesting assistance from a non-profit (organization) to complete the project. Immediately after reading the email, I called Jesus and invited him to meet with the American Legion Auxiliary during an upcoming meeting, so we could learn more about the project. That very evening, the auxiliary voted to support the young man’s project so he could move forward,” she said.

The memorial solemnly represents all military veterans from every branch, each city, and all unincorporated areas of Imperial County, and is displayed outside of the Imperial County Airport.

The memorial is situation so it can be appreciated from land as well as the air when aircrafts fly over the county, organizers said. From the air, pilots and passengers can see the image of an eagle as they look down at the memorial.

“Your promise to create this veterans memorial, and to honor all veterans of all wars and all branches of service will always be here in our community,” Benson concluded. “Thank you, Joaquin, and thank you veterans and active duty service members for your commitment to serving our great nation.”

According to organizers, the memorial uniquely symbolizes several aspects of what Imperial County’s veterans represent. The flags adorning the structure symbolize our nation, state, and county, and each branch of the armed services is identified by the medallions inlaid into the memorial.

“The eagle stands for our nation as a symbol of courage, strength, and nobleness – the same traits ingrained into our veterans,” said Roberto Avila, Imperial County Veterans Service Office representative. “Veterans are the one percent who allow the 99 percent to carry on with their dreams and aspirations in this great nation of ours,” Avila said.

The phrase, “Freedom is not Free” chiseled into the memorial recognizes the value of freedom, Avila said.

“Our freedom is not free – someone had to pay some price,” stressed Avila. ”Whether it’s foregoing the security and comforts of home, leaving their loved ones for deployments, sleepless days and nights serving the demands of military duty, experiencing the atrocities of war, returning to the rejection or embrace from those who were defended, and above all those, the ones who paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” Avila said.