In communities across the country people gather on Memorial Day to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military. For the past 28 years the staff from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District, along with representatives from several Johnson County, Iowa, veterans’ organizations, have been coming together on Memorial Day to honor living veterans who nearly lost their lives.
The Veterans Trail Dedication Ceremony, held at Coralville Lake in Iowa City, Iowa, on May 29, is an annual event designed to honor local veterans who received a purple heart or higher award and were honorably discharged from the military.
At this year’s ceremony, seven veterans, Brandon J. Burgus, Jacob E. Cannon, Keith J. Hodapp, Andrew B. Letarte, David L. Schapira, Floyd D. Smith and Bradley J. Storck, were added to the list of trail honorees. During the ceremony each veteran received a certificate of appreciation and their name was engraved in a stone that sits along the trail.
“The Veterans Trail provides a perfect opportunity to pay homage to our local heroes,” said Lt. Col. Phillip Fleming, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District, who presented each honoree with their certificate.
Each veteran who has been honored along the trail has a different, yet similar story of selfless service and dedication.
For honoree Floyd D. Smith, who was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967, and served with the Americal Division, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade during the Vietnam War, the Memorial Day ceremony brought back some challenging memories.
“In May 1969, after losing our point man, I started walking point,” Smith said. “I hit a booby trap that wounded or killed five members of my squad and I was wounded bad enough they had to send me home.”
Smith was sent to Irwin Army Hospital at Fort Riley, Kansas, and when he could walk again was assigned to the occupational therapy department at the hospital and was discharged later that year.
Although the ceremony brought back bad memories for Smith, he said it also provided him with an experience he never thought would happen.
“Coming home during Vietnam was a terrible thing, and the only reason I wasn’t spit on was because I came home on a stretcher,” Smith said. “People didn’t have the respect for the military that they do today, and it’s so nice to be here and see all these people celebrating those who have sacrificed for their country.”
More than 400 people attended the free event, which took place at the East Overlook Picnic Area near the trailhead. After the ceremony, many attendees took time to walk along the quarter-mile, barrier-free trail, which meanders through mature oak, hickory and maple trees and was built to accommodate all types of users including those with wheelchairs.
Coralville Lake Operations Manager, Dee Goldman, said the Veterans Trail is the only trail of its kind honoring veterans in the entire U.S. Army Corps of Engineers system.
It’s also a trail the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers strives to keep open 365 days a year, regardless of weather. This means clearing weeds in the spring and summer, removing piles of leaves in the fall, and removing snow in the winter.
“You just never know when family members might want to come and pay respect,” Goldman said. “It’s important that it’s accessible to them.”
Another way that Coralville Lake staff honor those who are listed on the trail is by decorating the Coralville Lake dam. Each year, in preparation for the holiday weekend and ceremony, employees place 189 American flags across the 1,400-foot-long dam.
Since 1989, when the trail was first dedicated, a total of 189 veterans have been honored on the trail, Natural Resource Specialist and event organizer Justin Lind said.
“Flying the flags across the dam is just another way we, here at the lake, can show respect to all the veterans who have sacrificed for our freedom,” Lind said.
For more information about the Veterans Trail, call Coralville Lake at 319-338-3543, ext. 6300, or visit http://www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Coralville-Lake/Recreation/Trails/Veterans-Trail/.