Freedom Fighters: The Veterans Plaza - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Freedom Fighters: The Veterans Plaza

(KLTV) -

The Veterans Plaza in Longview honors veterans of all wars, all branches, and all generations.   

"There is no difference between a little war and a big war."

That's why the monuments at the Veterans Plaza in Longview commemorate all wars from WWII through Afghanistan, as well as earlier wars and special sacrifices and service by Americans.

"From anywhere in the U.S., anywhere in the world that they served wearing a U.S. uniform, this park recognizes their service."

Richard and Gail Jurkowski and Billy Clay have helped spearhead the development of the plaza for over a year.

"We started out with every branch of the service."

"Everybody who puts on a uniform is what this plaza is about."

Richard Jurkowski, who served in special forces in Vietnam, was in the army 15 years before transferring to the air force, where he served another 15 years. It was in the air force that he met Gail, who had enlisted when she was 17. 

"I saw Gail walking across a parking lot one day in a white uniform and needless to say it attracted my attention," he recalls.

The two have been married 25 years and have worked hard to make the plaza a reality. While the many monuments erected on the hillside and along the lakeshore honor veterans and their families, it is the half-scale replica of the Vietnam memorial wall that is still to be completed. The concrete wall is complete, but the panels with the engraved names will all go up at once when funding is secured.

"We've got the wall itself up but we need about a $175,000 to get the panels engraved with names."

"I think it will bring closure to a lot of people, the families especially."

So far that closure has eluded Billy Clay, who was wounded three times during two tours of duty in Vietnam. Like so many other Vietnam veterans, Clay's hurt was compounded by the anti-war demonstrations he faced in the U.S.  But Clay and the Jurkowskis feel the completion of the wall will bring that closure, after so many years.

"I'm hoping it will bring healing to the families...that's what we all need, anybody that was in combat has lost a lot of friends and with these monuments we can pay tribute  to the men and women we lost over there so it's very precious."

Copyright 2016 KLTV. All rights reserved.

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