It’s almost universally true that design requires inspiration. True design is fueled by the kind of inspiration that offers a nod to that which provides the influence, where the results bear evidence of the provider of said influence. One example might be the fanciful, graceful flight of a bird influencing the design and creation of an aircraft. The truth in this fact about design is so beautifully, dramatically, and powerfully illustrated in the design of the completed Kingsport Veterans Memorial.
Not long after joining the project effort himself, Kingsport Veterans Memorial Committee Chairman Jim Erwin invited lifelong friend and Architect Jim Henderson to consider serving as the project’s architect. It was from one of Erwin and Henderson’s earliest conversations regarding the project that, while meeting for drinks, the design for the memorial began to take shape. As Erwin would share at the Phase I dedication ceremony, “This memorial started from a napkin. Jim (Henderson) had a vision and he kept changing it and drawing it, and every time I’d see him he’d changed the memorial, the way it looks until we got to this (dedication) day.”
Inspiring stories, passion and drive influenced and inspired continued design and development ideas that did, indeed, fuel Henderson’s vision from start to finish. “Everybody on the Kingsport Veterans Memorial Committee was ‘all-in’ from the start,” said Henderson. “Being around veterans like Captain (Herbert) Ladley, Jim Erwin, and John McKinley, and other driven folks like Susan LaGuardia and Cathy Tucker, was a great experience. Absolutely, the veterans present during those committee meetings provided inspiration throughout the design process.”
Drawing on the experiences and conversations shared with the veterans, Henderson built on his vision for what the veterans memorial should look like and how it could best honor those it was intended to represent.
Henderson’s vision, inspired by the veterans, led to a design that features a central memorial plaza with large, black granite monoliths that pay tribute to the war dead from each war and, in the case of World War II, from the theater of operations in which they served. Elaborately designed, each monolith features the names of Kingsport’s fallen soldiers on one side and a map of that particular war’s theater of operations on the other.
Reviewing the maps created by Henderson was Captain Ladley himself. Ladley’s service to his country as a United States Navy fighter pilot, having flown more than 120 missions in World War II (South Pacific) and the Korean War, made him especially qualified to review the maps for accuracy and detail.
Benches and a center flag that remains illuminated at all times complete the central memorial area.
The central memorial plaza is approached by a “Walk of Honor” from each side that contains the names of 52 major conflicts that our soldiers fought in, ranging from World War I to the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Granite pavers, most bearing the name of a Kingsport veteran, line the sides of the two “Walk of Honor” walkways on each side leading up to the memorial plaza.
“The absolute first element was always going to be a central memorial area with black monoliths that would honor the war dead by the conflict in which they fought,” said Henderson. “The central area is sacred territory in that regard.”
Lining the entry on each side of the central memorial plaza are two raw, unfinished monoliths, a stark departure from the rest of the detailed polished granite found in the central area. “The monoliths at each entry point are there to remind all who visit of the violence and brutality of war; the conditions in which those who served, those that the memorial honors, experienced,” explained Henderson. Such detail helps to further illustrate the bravery and uncommon valor that our soldiers displayed in service to our country.
Further attention to detail included staggering the monoliths to make it easier for visitors to walk through; gray blocks of granite periodically but strategically located throughout the “Walks of Honor” so visitors could sit when stopping at their loved one’s granite paver; and, finally, waiting until the granite pieces that form the “Walk of Honor” were in place before sandblasting to ensure that all pieces lined up perfectly.
Equally impressive is the fact that Henderson and the rest of the Kingsport Veterans Committee always believed additional phases would be added, including Phase II, The Sentinel, and even the most recently added Veterans Kioskkiosk (May 2022) containing info on how visitors can locate a loved one’s granite paver by name.
The actions of all who served, and those who continue to serve, should inspire us all. The gathering of so many local veterans who served, to once again come together for a cause greater than themselves, was more than enough to inspire the dream and vision that led to the creation of Kingsport’s Veterans Memorial.