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National Veterans Shrine

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Shrine gives veterans the respect and honor they deserve

By Miriam Davis

“It’s sacred ground,” says Melanie Poole, of the American Village. She’s talking about the earth enshrined under the bronze figure of Liberty in front of the National Veterans Shrine and Registry of Honor, earth taken from battlefields around the globe where Americans served and some “gave the last full measure of devotion.”

National Veterans Shrine at the American Village in Montevallo is patterned after Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Photo by Mark Stephenson
National Veterans Shrine at the American Village in Montevallo is patterned after Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Photo by Mark Stephenson

Located at the American Village near Montevallo, the National Veterans Shrine was dedicated Feb. 17, 2014. It honors those of every generation who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for liberty.

The shrine emphasizes veterans as individuals. Inside, a 16-minute video features veterans or family remembers recounting the story of the vet’s service. John O’Mally describes his 21st birthday spent in a hollow log hiding from the North Vietnamese. Chris Fraser, whose mother vehemently opposed her enlisting, talks about her service in the Persian Gulf War as a nurse. Mary Nell Winslow remembers her 17-year-old son Ryan, killed by a roadside bomb three weeks after arriving in Iraq. “Vets are people,” says Poole. “Each one is someone’s child. And it’s not just the men and women in the military who serve, but their families too.”

Hundreds of pictures line the walls of the exhibit showing individuals who served, often far from home and at great risk: women pilots in World War II, soldiers waving from a World War I troopship, a marine in his dress uniform.

One panel pictures Admiral Jeremiah Denton returning from almost eight years as a POW in North Vietnam. The text recounts his determination to die rather than reveal anything of value to his captors. Other panels picture other notable Alabamians, such as Medal of Honor winners George Watson and Red Irwin.

The heart of the shrine is the Registry of Honor. Veterans who register (or are registered by their families) have a short movie made of their service that can be viewed at one of the eight computer kiosks. The video contains pertinent information about the vet’s service — branch, rank, campaigns, battles, years of service – as well as any pictures or information in the vet’s own words that are submitted. The video also contains background information about the conflicts the vet served in, and a Google map shows where the vet was born and where he or she served. The end result is a personalized record of a veteran’s service. Anyone can sit down and search for a particular vet by name or hometown.

Visitors leaving the shrine pass by a large screen showing a ticker-tape parade and under an archway with the words, “Our Heroes,” above it. Photographs nearby show scenes of homecoming; in one a girl holds up a sign that says “Thank you.” This is because, Poole explains, so many vets were not properly welcomed home and this way, “all vets get the honor they deserve.”

And that is the purpose of the National Veterans Shrine and Registry of Honor – to give all veterans the honor and gratitude they are due.

For more information, visit www.americanvillage.org. The Shrine is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Miriam Davis is a research associate in history at Delta State University.