Veterans Day symbolizes a force of patriotism throughout the country and is a day to honor those who have fought and are still fighting for America. The grand opening of Veterans Valor Plaza on Saturday, Nov. 11 was a fitting date to celebrate and remember the troops who serve.
At the event, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia explained the rich history of the city, beginning as a navy town with thousands of navy sailors living on bases in the harbor. Thus, Veterans Valor Plaza is not only significant for residents of today, but for the history of the city.
During the event, the plaza was packed with bounce houses and crowds, decorated with American flags and filled with spirit. Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, with his child bundled up in a baby carrier, opened the event.
“What better way,” Richardson said, “to kick off our Veterans Day celebration here in the city of Long Beach than to free the Huey [helicopter] and open up our new plaza here at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.”
The idea to implement a plaza dedicated to veterans was established by Richardson, according to Marie Knight, director of Parks, Recreation & Marine. Richardson then went on to explain the inspiration behind his vision.
“So, in 2014, we asked the community which projects need to be beautified the most,” he said. “One of the most popular projects was to restore and revitalize the plaza surrounding the Huey, and so, the participatory budget selected a digital marquee, infrastructure here at the park. It took us a couple of years, but we finally, in time for Veterans Day, were able to pull this off.”
The addition of the digital marquee board and elimination of the surrounding fences were a part of the revitalization and also served as a crucial component in opening up Houghton Park, which is located behind the plaza, visually to the public.
Sean Crumby, deputy director of Public Works, explained the expectations of the new Veterans Valor Plaza.
“Really, the goals of the project were, as the vice mayor said, to bring down the fences,” Crumby said. “By doing that, what we were trying to do is invite the public in and make it more friendly and easier to celebrate our veterans.”
The new plaza is now located on the corner of Houghton Park off Atlantic Avenue, and the integration of the park with Veterans Valor Paza took a community effort. Richardson began to discuss the importance for north Long Beach residents now that the plaza is a part of the park.
“Most folks of north Long Beach know this is our Boston Commons,” Richardson said. “Everything takes place right here at the park, and we’ve tried over the last few years to integrate, to pull people in, to understand what’s happening with our park, what’s happening with our city, and this digital reading board will help us to do that.”
In addition, Garcia explained that there are a lot more improvements to be completed, especially within the Veterans Affairs Commission.
As the event was coming to a close, Veterans Affairs Commissioner and Girl Scouts troop leader Juanita Doplemore, followed by two scouts, explained the role their organization played in the opening of Veterans Valor Plaza.
“One of the goals this year was to engage our local youth,” Doplemore said. “One of the ways that we did that is by hosting an arts project where the girls realized that the Long Beach [Veterans] Parade did not have a patch. As you know in Girl Scouts, we love patches.”
With this, Doplemore said that her troop worked with a local art studio to design a contest for youth to create their own patch to represent the Veterans Day Parade.
She also explained that audience members at the opening of the plaza had an opportunity to earn the newly designed patch later that day.
Ultimately, Veterans Valor Plaza was revitalized to reach out to the north Long Beach community to publicly honor those who serve.
“It’s just such a pleasure,” Knight said, “to open up this plaza behind us, because here we stand in the home of the free, and we are recognizing the brave that made it possible.”