There’s decades of history in the names and notes engraved on the paving bricks in the Santa Clara Veterans’ Memorial. Veterans of every U.S. conflict from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War are remembered.
“Every brick tells a story,” said Veterans Memorial Committee founding member Marlys Lee.
There is a brick in memory of Albert Alvarez Jr., the longest-held Vietnam prisoner of war (POW) — Santa Clara Alvarez Park is also named for him. There’s a brick honoring Santa Clara resident Thomas Cronin who was a Japanese POW for 1,004 days.
Local resident Leslie Allen Bell, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in the Vietnam War, is also remembered at the monument. There are also bricks have been added for soldiers killed in Iraq: Wes Canning USMC, Kyle Crowley USMC, Adam Wayne Esty USMC, and Travis Layfield USMC.
How The Memorial Came To Be
Santa Clara’s memorial was a grassroots effort from start to finish.
Dedicated on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 2002, the Memorial was the brainchild of Santa Clara residents Jim Ash, Jim and Marlys Lee and Ray Gamma. The four were instrumental in presenting the idea of a memorial to the City Council in 2001, forming the Veterans Memorial Committee, developing the design, and raising the $260,000 to build it. The memorial was designed by Santa Cruz architect, Ron Lechner, who donated his design work.
The idea began at a retirement dinner at the Santa Clara’s Elks Club in April 2000, where the four shared a table, according to Jim Lee.
“The talk all began with the Avenue of Flags on Kiely,” said Jim Ash. “Jim [Lee] wanted to take the flags all the way to Great America and I said, ‘I don’t think they will do it.’”
The conversation moved on to the possibility of replacing two memorials that used to stand in the City — one at the now-gone War Memorial pool and the other on Franklin Street that had been removed during the redevelopment of the 1950s.
“We sat there and drew out a plan for what the new memorial might look like,” Ash continued.
“We went to [former Parks and Recreation Director] Larry Wolfe,” said Jim Lee, “and he said, ‘that would be a crown jewel in the [Central] Park.’”
The project was a one-of-a-kind, according to Wolfe. “When these guys came to me, of course, I thought it was a good idea,” Wolfe said in 2005. “But I wasn’t sure they could raise the money. Many groups have come to me that never did what they said. But this group – they raised more money than it cost to build.”
The group received its first major donation at the Citywide July 4 picnic in 2000 — $5,000 from John McLemore, a retired Army Reserves Lieutenant Colonel and former City Council Member.
“It was his entire retirement check from the military,” added Jim Lee. The group was surprised by the community’s enthusiastic response to the proposed monument. “I didn’t think we could do it as fast as we did,” he said.
In 2002, the stock market had crashed, which threw a wet blanket on corporate donations. “I got no response from letters to corporations except from United Defense and Central Computer,” he said.
However, through the sales of memorial bricks, with donations from local clubs, businesses, and veterans organizations — including a $35,000 donation from American Legion Post 564 — within two years the group had raised enough money to start building.
The support of the City of Santa Clara and the Parks and Recreation Department comes in for special praise from the memorial’s founding team. “I can’t say enough about the City and the Parks people,” Jim Lee said.
“The City Council gave us 110 percent support,” added Ray Gamma.
One of the unique features of Santa Clara’s memorial is its inclusion of the Merchant Marines as well as the other five branches of the armed services.
“We are one of the first in the U.S. to have a memorial for the Merchant Marines,” said Ash. “I had heard that the Merchant Marines were suing a group in San Francisco for not being included in a memorial.”
“They are often overlooked,” said Veterans Memorial Committee member John McLemore. “They have an essential role in logistics and many died in WWII.”
“It’s such a beautiful monument,” said John McLemore. “Other groups in the Valley want to come over and have services here because it’s so unique and accessible. Everyone wants to know how we did it.”
The Santa Clara Veterans’ Memorial is located in Central Park, behind the Community Recreation Center near Kiely Boulevard. Applications for memorial bricks are available at the Community Recreation Center.