City officials, military personnel and an estimated 300 people attended a dedication ceremony for the Del Norte County Veterans Memorial Monument, the ‘Point of Honor,’ located at the corned of Front Street and Highway 101 in Crescent City. The ceremony was held the morning of Saturday, July 13.
The monument features 7-foot tall granite obelisks that represent each branch of the military, memorial benches, and a wall holding the names of Del Norte County’s fallen military personnel. More than 40 names appear on the wall, including Army National Guard Capt. Bruno de Solenni, who served four tours in Afghanistan and was killed on his last deployment at age 32.
Kelly Schellong, public relations representative and fundraising chairwoman for the Del Norte County Veterans Memorial Monument Committee, first introduced City Manager Eric Wier, who opened the ceremony by reading a poem describing veterans as selfless servants who bravely stood for their fellow citizens, sacrificing of themselves to uphold the nation’s highest ideals.
“Yes, today it’s time to honor our vets, and remember their pain so we don’t ever forget. Remember them today as we dedicate this place to all veterans, regardless of age, rank or race,” Wier recited. “Stand by their side, give them their due — because they dutifully did it for you.”
Committee members were recognized for their service on the monument project. The monument committee, composed of nearly all veterans, began its work in 2007 and achieved nonprofit status in 2016. Committee chairman Harlan Ziegler called it a good for the veterans in the community and for those who worked so hard to realize the project.
“If I had to describe this project from start to finish with one word, that word would be community — in big capital letters,” Ziegler said. “From the very start, it was obvious to us on the committee that this was something our community wanted. It was also obvious to us that this was something our community, and they sure did.”
Ziegler said with so many veterans making Del Norte County their home, the price of freedom and by whom it is paid is well known. He said people were looking for a way to show their appreciation for those individuals who were willing to pay that price. Ziegler said those who served, himself included, gave a piece of themselves for a greater cause. He was grateful for the dedicated work of numerous committee members.
“The old adage of some gave all and all gave some, it is very true,” Ziegler said. “You’ve got 41 names on a wall behind me from this community, they gave everything. They gave their lives.”
Ziegler added that he was most proud that community was built and financed by the community, not government grants or big donors. He said because of that, it belongs to the people. He thanked city officials for donating the land and supporting the project wholeheartedly over the years, taking time from their busy schedules to see the monument designed and constructed.
Ziegler and Schellong also thanked Democratic State Sen. Mike McGuire for kickstarting the initial fundraising efforts that generated $40,000 for the monument in a single evening. Initially estimated to cost around $500,000, the Del Norte County Veterans Memorial Monument saw a redesign that made it more affordable, coming to around $175,000 including $20,000 to the City of Crescent City for future maintenance costs.
McGuire attended the dedication and proclaimed July 13 to be Del Norte County Veterans Day in Northern California. He called on the veterans in the audience to stand and be recognized, saying the day was dedicated to their service, sacrifice and courage. He applauded the community for making good on a promise from 12 year ago to honor the nearly 2,400 veterans who reside in the area.
“Del Norte County owes you a debt of gratitude,” McGuire said. “Del Norte County has come together, like they do time and time again, to build you a monument that will stand the test of time, dedicated to our veterans.”
McGuire also highlighted Schellong and the committee’s hard work and dedication right up to the last minute, still laying bricks the day before the dedication ceremony.
“It’s an emotional day, too. This monument will honor veterans for generations to come, showing locals and visitors alike that Del Norte County stands with the 1.6 million veteran who call the Golden State home,” he said. “It says to everyone that come through this roadway that veterans will never be forgotten.”
A representative from Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman’s office presented Schellong with a certificate of special Congressional recognition for the Del Norte County Veterans Monument Committee. Huffman sent remarks that echoed McGuire in applauding Del Norte County for its sense of community and willingness to work for its veterans.
Schellong served on the City Council in 2007 when the land for the memorial monument was granted to the project by city officials. She stepped down from the council in 2014, the same year her son enlisted in the Army. He’s currently serving in Germany. She teamed up with the veterans who had spent years moving their project through the design, permitting and regulating processes.
The commander of Coast Guard Station Humboldt Bay, Capt. Gregory Fuller also spoke at the dedication ceremony. He said the monument gave him pause to reflect on a tragic loss 25 years ago, when a Coast Guard helicopter crashed while responding to a 40-foot sailboat that grounded along the rocky shoreline of Shelter Cove.
According to the Coast Guard, heavy fog in the early morning hours made a visual approach to the sailboat difficult. The aircrew performed several instrument approaches to the position of the sailboat, attempting to gain visual contact to conduct a rescue. On the third attempt, the helicopter struck a shoreline cliff, killing all four aircrew members.
Mayor Pro Tem Heidi Kime thanked the project committee and said when visitors drive through Crescent City, they will know that veterans are honored and supported by the community. She encouraged people to find inspiration in the meanings of service and sacrifice by reflecting in the picturesque setting.
“As the wife of a veteran, I’m one of the lucky ones,” Kime said. “Mine came home to me. Not everyone can say that.”
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, County Supervisor Chris Howard said everyone’s lives have been impacted a time or another by a veteran or service member. He said remembering that is part of why the monument was important. Howard said his family would not be here today if not for veterans after members of his family were saved from certain death in the Philippines during World War II.
The monument also features an inscribed stone dedicated to the Hmong who fought as U.S. allies during secret campaigns into Laos and Cambodia. Hmong soldiers battled the North Vietnamese Army and the Pathet Lao, sieging the Ho Chi Minh trail, and rescuing downed American pilots. The secret fighters made tremendous sacrifices to boost U.S. military efforts in the Vietnam War. Many Hmong refugees resettled in America after the war.
In closing, the names of the 41 fallen service members from Del Norte County were read aloud by monument committee member Douglas Plack, flotilla commander of the Crescent City Coast Guard Auxiliary.