Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: Letters in the park by the river

May 30, 2014 

It's a Friday afternoon in Columbus, and I decide to walk over to see the newly dedicated Military Service Walk.

In front of the Synovus building, I pass the statue of the girl drawing. I've never noticed the name of it: "When Now Becomes Then."

The day's uncomfortably warm, but the sound and smell of the rapids somehow make it seem a notch cooler.

Not cool enough. I walk along a path, listening to the river. There's a lot going on, and at the same time not much. A homeless man sleeps on a bench. A river guide hauls a trailer of rafts. Two women navigate the splash pad. They really shouldn't be wearing bathing suits in public.

A tall sign lists the splash pad rules. "No Lifeguard on Duty" the words blare. "No Solo Bathing Permitted." In some places the water pools up and reaches maybe an inch deep.

R.E.M. plays from a speaker in the ground. "This one goes out to the one I love," they sing. "This one goes out to the one I've left behind."

Now I'm at the Military Service Walk. The first three markers flank an American flag and face the river. I read Bill Stelpflug's letter to his parents, written in Beirut in 1983. "It worries me more to know that y'all worry about me more than I worry about me," he writes. "I won't go out of my way to be a hero, or anything like that."

The river stretches out beyond his words. Fishing boats bob in the water, and beyond it Cut Bait spits and churns.

Next, Rudy Quillian writes from Africa in 1943 and tells Sally, the daughter he's never met, that he wants her to call him Pop.

Then a sergeant explains to a father how his son, Gayner Loop, died in Germany in 1943 after shrapnel severed the large artery in his neck.

Ash trees sway in the breeze, and over on the Phenix City side a group of rafters land on the new boat ramp.

To read the other five markers, you have to turn your back to the river. There are two emails from Afghanistan on one of them. Mike Newton jokes with the women in his family, and Benjamin Park tells his sister not to worry.

Then a Confederate lieutenant writes Henry Goetchius to tell him his two brothers have died in the Civil War. John T. Merritt writes his father from the Pacific in 1944. Jerry Laird, from Vietnam in 1968, wishes his daughter, Lisa, an early 4th birthday.

And Bruce Hollingshead, from Beirut in 1983, sends this message to his family: "Boy, one thing this ain't been, is a boring trip!"

At the splash pad, two little girls dance in the spray. Fleetwood Mac from the speakers in the ground plays "My Little Demon."

"I really don't like it… ain't nothing I can do. I really don't like it… I'm leaving it to you."

I think the memorial is perfect. It's not a towering hunk of marble that dominates the RiverWalk. It's words on simple markers.

Those words stick in your mind, a gentle reminder of why we are free.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com

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