AUSTIN — While attending a deployment ceremony, retired Col. James Stryker saw a child cling to her mother’s leg, begging her not to go. The soldier, with tears on her cheeks, explained she had to go to Iraq as the father pulled the child away.
It was then that Stryker, a Vietnam War veteran and military spouse, knew he had to build a monument to honor the men and women going into harm’s way and leaving their families behind.
“I’m a servant to these individuals for what they have done,” said Stryker, a Houston resident.
Shortly after, he formed the Texas War Memorial Board, an all-volunteer group dedicated to building a monument for the post 9/11 veterans from the state of Texas. After six years of work and fundraising, the group unveiled the dramatic statue on the Texas State Capitol grounds Saturday morning.
Titled “The Price of Liberty,” the monument depicts an angelic Lady Liberty pulling a service member dressed in modern day combat gear away from his wife and daughter. The daughter is holding a folded American flag — foreshadowing the ultimate sacrifice her father will make for his country.
“When I look in the eyes of the child and mother — it’s familiar,” said Maj. Gen. John C. “J.T.” Thomson, III Corps and Fort Hood deputy commander, who attended the ceremony. “As a native Texan and representative of Fort Hood, Texans have continued to do the heavy lifting for our nation.”
About 225,000 Texans deployed to the Global War on Terror with 611 paying the ultimate sacrifice. Another 3,300 returned home wounded. State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Waco, spoke at the unveiling. The retired lieutenant colonel was one of the first casualties of the Global War on Terror, when he sustained significant burns when the Pentagon was struck on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The price of liberty is something that has to be paid routinely,” he said. “The price of liberty is fought for by each generation. The only way to raise up a generation of warriors ... is to champion the service of those that put on the uniform.”
Troops from Fort Hood have contributed to those numbers. The 4th Infantry Division was the first from Fort Hood to send its soldiers to combat in Iraq in 2003. Since then, a steady flow of deployments has continued. Today, nearly one-third of Fort Hood’s 35,000 troops are oversees or training to deploy.
State Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen, said that while about one percent of Americans have served in the military, it’s closer to eight percent of Texans.
“I’m very happy our state recognized the contributions of our service men and women and their families,” he said. “We are very blessed they contributed to our freedom and to our state.”
The last monument unveiled at the Texas Capitol was the Vietnam War Memorial. Stryker said he was invited to attend, but because it occurred nearly 40 years after the end of the war, he felt emotionally separated from its significance.
“We wanted to build a monument today that’s meaningful to this generation of warriors,” he said. Its base will include mementos to fallen service members and tributes to their sacrifice.
With unseasonably warm, sunny weather, a crowd of curious Capitol tourists, veterans, active-duty service members and legislators from across the state attended the morning’s festivities, many proudly wearing motorcycle vests, buttons or hats to note their military service.
Staff Sgt. Richard Paulino, of 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, rode to Austin for the unveiling ceremony as part of a large contingent of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. Five area chapters were on site, donning matching black leather motorcycle vests and patches to note their military service.
“I couldn’t have said it any better about the Vietnam guys,” he said, adding he looks forward to schedule a group ride down to see the monument next year.
Although the statue made its public debut Saturday, it is not quite finished, Stryker said. Donations are still needed to help finish the installation and create an endowment for future maintenance so that the memorial is no cost to taxpayers.
It should be installed at its final home on the northwest corner of 12th and San Jacinto streets by the end of January. The fact that it’s on the path from the visitors parking garage to the Capitol grounds was no accident, Cosper said.
“The monument was placed in such a visible location that hopefully it will raise awareness and appreciation from all of us who did not serve that cost of freedom — it’s a high cost, because freedom is certainly not free,” he said. “What an amazing honor it is to live in the great state of Texas that recognizes those that serve.”
Learn more about the memorial at TexasWarMemorial.com.