SAN BENITO — When Ernesto Atkinson walks into the San Benito Veterans War Memorial, he comes home to his family’s military legacy.
On the floor, he gazes at the seven bricks that bear the names of his father and five brothers, as well as his own name.
“It made me shed a tear to see us all together,” said Atkinson, 86, a World War II veteran. “We wanted all seven bricks to be together. I want people to see that all of us boys served our country.”
Next month, the city will unveil a bronze sculpture that residents like Atkinson helped purchase through a program in which they buy bricks engraved with the names of loved ones.
“It’s very important that we have a memorial because of those who paid the supreme sacrifice,” Atkinson said as he remembered his brother Enrique, who was 22 when he was killed in North Korea in 1952. “Freedom lives, and through it, they live.”
On Memorial Day, the San Benito Veterans Advisory Committee will unveil a 10-foot sculpture that depicts a helmet atop a rifle, said Victor Garza, the board’s chairman.
The statue by Sandra Van Zandt of Talala, Okla., depicts a re-creation of a scene captured by a combat photographer on the beach at Normandy in June 1944, Garza said.
“It signifies a burial ground,” Garza said.
The committee helped raise $25,000 to buy the sculpture through its program that sells engraved bricks for $100, Garza said.
The statue will become the first of three sculptures planned for the war memorial dedicated last July 4, Garza said.
So far, the committee’s sold about 370 bricks, said Charlie Wilson, the committee’s vice chairman.
“This is an ongoing project,” Garza said. “It’s a community project. A lot of us have served in the military and a lot of us have lost loved ones and some of us still have loved ones missing in action. We do this in their honor. We don’t want to forget.”
Future brick sales will help buy a $50,000 bronze sculpture that will depict a uniformed soldier standing in a section of the war memorial that re-creates the city’s old depot from which trains carried soldiers to war, Garza said.
“The soldier will be looking south toward Brownsville, down the railroad tracks, waiting for the train to take him to war,” Garza said.
Committee members plan to use an additional $50,000 in brick sales to buy a bronze sculpture of an eagle to stand over the war memorial’s granite pedestal that looms over a fountain, Garza said.
“We want to make this is sacred place,” Wilson said. “It’s important to families who have loved ones killed or missing in action and to all the soldiers who’ve served. It’s important to have a visual park to recognize that freedom is not free. Sometimes people have to be reminded that we have to pay for it.”
Fernando Del Valle writes for the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen.
For more information on the committee’s fundraising program, call Victor Garza at (956) 399-7464 or Martha McClain at (956) 361-3804, ext. 301.