Hartford — The state will build a memorial in Minuteman Park across from the William A. O'Neill State Armory to honor the 1.3 million Connecticut residents who have served in the military.
The site is fitting, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday, since soldiers leave from the armory on deployments in service of the nation to bring freedom to other countries.
"We've been in the business of making veterans in this state since 1775," Malloy said in a press conference at the park, noting that more than 277,000 veterans currently live in Connecticut and that number is expected to climb.
Later Tuesday, the Connecticut National Guard held a send-off ceremony in the armory for 260 soldiers, which will bring the total number of state guardsmen overseas to 550.
Many municipalities have veterans memorials, but this will be the first state memorial to honor the contributions of veterans throughout history. Malloy said it was a mistake to wait this long to build one, a "mistake that is now in the process of being rectified."
Two years ago, the state was planning to build the memorial adjacent to the Col. Raymond F. Gates Memorial Cemetery in Rocky Hill, across from the state Department of Veterans' Affairs. Malloy said the park was chosen instead because it is a more prominent site. Thousands of people who visit the state Capitol pass by it daily.
"This is just perfect for what we want to do," state Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz said.
She said the basic elements will be a wall of honor and a plaza, which will serve as "a place for all to come to honor and remember" and "an inspiration for the young." She said she envisions a ground-breaking in November and a dedication on Memorial Day. Then, the memorial will serve as a site for other ceremonies that honor veterans.
Connecticut State Veterans Memorial Inc. is a nonprofit established to raise funds for and to build the memorial. About $600,000 has been raised so far, and the group will continue to fundraise, Schwartz said.
Veterans and state legislators attended the announcement, including several members of the Select Committee on Veterans' Affairs. John Harrison, AMVETS Department of Connecticut commander, said his group donated $1 for each of the 7,000 state residents who have been members of the veterans service organization.
"To see it actually getting ready to start is heartwarming," he said.
Robert Smith and Jim Shelmerdine, members of the Korean War Veterans Association, agreed it was "about time."
"It sanctifies the lives that were given and the work that we all have done," Smith said.
For more information, visit www.cthonorsvets.org or call (860) 616-3603.