MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- The first of 2,000 plaques was mounted at Yuma's Armed Forces Park at 291 Gila Street Oct. 10.
The park, which recognizes the efforts of U.S. Armed Forces veterans past and present, recently completed its first phase of construction, and the ceremony was held to herald the beginning of the next phase of construction.
Fred Ferguson, a retired Army major and one of only four living Arizona residents who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, mounted the plaque on the wall in front of local politicians, retired veterans and Marines.
"It's a real honor," said Ferguson. "Everything this country is, was and can be, we owe to the Armed Forces of the United States. All the free air we breathe was paid for by someone's blood."
Ferguson received his Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War when he piloted a helicopter during a rescue mission in Hue City, Jan. 31, 1968, to rescue five soldiers under heavy fire.
"I don't have a distinction besides being an above average helicopter pilot," said Ferguson. "I've still got all my fingers and toes attached."
According to Ken Rosevear, executive director of the Yuma Chamber of Commerce, construction on the park is only 30 percent complete.
"This is the only park of its kind in Arizona to commemorate and honor those who have served or are serving in the armed services," said Rosevear. "It's for any resident in the United States who has served in any branch of the military."
Rosevear said any servicemember can have his or her name immortalized on the wall for a price.
"After we get the park done, we'll have room for about 2,000 plaques," said Art Nottingham, retired Marine sergeant major and chairman of the park committee. "We've only sold 560 plaques so far. The money earned from the park will be used to fund the further construction of the park."
Nottingham said it shouldn't be difficult to sell the plaques to fund the remaining construction of the park because there are currently 15,000 retired veterans living in Yuma. If the money cannot be raised locally, park coordinators plan to turn to the major source of income in Yuma during the fall months, the "Snow Birds."
"We have 90,000 winter visitors visiting Yuma every year," said Nottingham. "A lot of those guys are World War II vets."
Rosevear said park coordinators hope to have the construction of the park completed by January.
"It'll probably be complete by the first of the year," said Rosevear. "We were hoping for Veteran's Day, but we're not going to make it. The park is being built as we receive the money."
According to Nottingham, the park would not have become a reality if it weren't for local businesses and Marines.
"All the concrete and brick was donated by local businesses," said Nottingham. "We got a lot of Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron-371 and the air station to come out and do the work for nothing. It saved us a lot of labor costs."
Ceremony attendees applauded the Marines and were happy to see the park become a reality after such a long time.
"We've been fighting for this for six years," said Al Brick, a retired sailor. "We finally got it done with the help of quite a few people, including-the help of MWSS-371."