PARKERSBURG - Over 200 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday at City Park for a new monument which will honor local military personnel who lost their lives in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan, including Parkersburg native Nicholas H. Null who died while serving in Afghanistan in 2011.
Work on constructing the Fallen Soldier Memorial is expected to begin later this spring, with a planned completion and dedication on Aug. 3.
The primary driving force behind the project has been the Nicholas H. Null Memorial Foundation, which was started by Tracy (Null) Kendall when her son, Parkersburg South High School graduate Nick Null, was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011.
Kendall told those in attendance at Saturday's groundbreaking that the day was Null's 32nd birthday.
He was an elite EOD/Naval Special Warfare Development Group member whose helicopter was transporting his team on a mission when it was shot down by Taliban soldiers with a rocket-propelled grenade. Null was killed along with 38 other military personnel, including 22 SEALS from SEAL Team 6 and one service dog, reports said.
Since that time, Kendall and Null's stepfather, Alan Litman, have been working with the help of family, friends and many other supporters on the memorial project over the past 18 months.
"To me, this memorial symbolizes healing, honor and leaving a legacy of what our boys died for, long after all of us are long gone," Kendall said during Saturday's ceremony.
Other speakers included Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell, Wood County Commissioner Wayne Dunn, state Senator David Nohe, R-Wood, and Sean Hill, representative for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Litman said the foundation has received support and assistance from area businesses, organizations, individuals and local government as it worked on the project. Grants have been received at the local and state levels in support of the project, which expected to cost about $50,000, while various groups and organizations have held fundraisers of various types to support it.
More than half of the amount has been raised, which permitted the organizers to move forward with the physical construction of the memorial, Litman said. The installation work will be done by volunteers with some in-kind labor provided, he said.
The new memorial will feature a fallen soldier statue honoring Null and the other servicemembers who died with him on the helicopter in 2011. There will also be three granite pieces honoring the fallen from Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. Litman said the foundation is working to include the names of all local servicemembers who died during those conflicts as part of the memorial.
The markers will be located at the center of a 25-foot circular plaza with a short walkway connected to the parking lot next to the City Park pond. The memorial is located adjacent to the pond and to the Veterans Memorial Plaza in that section of the park.
While the work is getting under way, Litman said the foundation's fundraising efforts will continue, with a golf tournament on May 5 at Oxbow Golf Course in Belpre and an annual 5K run and walk on Aug. 3 at City Park, which this year they hope to incorporate as part of the memorial's dedication.
During her remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony, Kendall said the foundation's efforts won't stop with the memorial. Once it is in place, she plans to continue working and raising money to support other programs and efforts on behalf of the area's fallen veterans and especially those they leave behind.
"We're not alone in this war. It has many grieving families," Kendall said.
Donations to the foundation can be mailed to: The Nick Null Foundation, 1049 Lake Washington Road, Washington, W.Va. 26181