ASSUMPTION – Joseph Smallwood made the long motorized march from his home in Canton, Ga., to Assumption and found his name etched in black granite on a monument that took his breath away.
Sunday saw the unveiling of the new Assumption Veterans Memorial that features more than 1,100 names cut into six freestanding granite tablets flanking a bronze eagle measuring 5 feet 9 inches from wingtip to wingtip. Joseph Smallwood is there, along with the names of his 80-year-old Navy veteran father, James, and his dad's brothers Phil, Bill and Greg and several uncles, too, to form a perpetual Smallwood family reunion.
Joseph Smallwood, who grew up in Assumption after being adopted from his native Mexico when he was 10, lived in town until he was 18 and answered Uncle Sam's call to Vietnam. He would spend 15 years in the regular Army and, later, another 15 years in the reserves, training young soldiers for overseas deployment in the Iraq War. He said America gave him everything, and serving was his way of paying some of it back.
“This country blessed me from the time my folks adopted me,” said Smallwood, 68. “And now look at this,” he said gesturing towards the memorial. “It's fantastic, beautiful. I am so proud they came and did this for all us veterans.”
The memorial cost more than $100,000, and the money charged in fast and furious, all raised privately. Soldiers young and old who came to look upon the shiny granite and dramatic bronze Sunday couldn't get over how easy on the eye it was. “I think it's amazing. I think it's beautiful,” said Sgt. Zach Rever, 21, on a four-day pass from his 101st Airborne Division base in Fort Campbell, Ky. The name of his Vietnam War veteran grandfather, Jack Rever, is cut into the granite. “I came to be here for my grandfather, and this is a big day for both of us,” added Rever.
The man who designed the memorial, and hand-sculpted the centerpiece eagle, is Mount Zion High School art teacher Bob Dondeville. He said the eagle holds arrows and olive branches gripped in one taloned foot, symbolizing this country's modern reality of seeking peace amid fighting many wars. “It never ends,” said Dondeville, 68.
A crowd numbering in the hundreds heard Jim Bugg, a member of the Assumption Veterans Memorial Committee, stand before the monmument and address them as thunder rumbled in the background like the sound of distant artillery. “Our veterans behind us cry out to us: 'Please, don't forget us,' ” he said.