South Miami

A new marker on a busy road salutes the people who served in the military

Attendees watch the Color Guard during the dedication of the Blue Star Memorial Marker at Fuchs Park in South Miami on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The city of South Miami and the South Miami Garden Club dedicated the Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker as a tribute to the Armed Forces.
Attendees watch the Color Guard during the dedication of the Blue Star Memorial Marker at Fuchs Park in South Miami on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The city of South Miami and the South Miami Garden Club dedicated the Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker as a tribute to the Armed Forces. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

The National Garden Club unveiled a new Blue Star Memorial marker during a ceremony at Fuchs Park in South Miami.

Veterans and their family members on Tuesday celebrated the landmark sign along U.S. 1 that pays tribute to veterans. Although there are 3,000 such markers dotting roads across the country, it’s easy to drive past without knowing the significance.

The marker is on a grassy area right outside the park, 6446 SW 81st St., which runs alongside U.S. 1.

“For us, the Blue Star Memorial marker is like the cross at each grave in Arlington National Cemetery,” said Andrea Little, the chair of Blue Star Memorial. “Some people just look and say, ‘Oh, God, another road sign,’ but they really don’t understand the importance of it to those who served.”

Little, 77, says the Blue Star symbolizes anyone who has put on a uniform. The five points on the star symbolize war, peace, honesty, prosperity and honor. This specific marker reads “A tribute to the Armed Forces who have defended the United States of America.”

She comes from a military family, with her father and husband serving. Little says she visits 20 marker unveilings each year throughout the United States.

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John Waterstreet, chaplain of the American Legion Post of the Korea and Vietnam Veterans, during the dedication of the Blue Star Memorial Marker at Fuchs Park in South Miami on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Some military families feel disrespected by professional athletes choosing to kneel for the national anthem, even if their actions weren’t directed toward those who serve in the armed forces. And some Vietnam veterans came home to anger and hatred.

“They jeered, yelled at us and everything,” said Mike McVay, a lieutenant in the Marine Corps who served in Vietnam. “When we came back we didn’t use or put on our uniforms for a long time.”

Eduardo Lombard, 70, a Vietnam War veteran and Coral Gables resident since 1961, recalls how hard it was to come home during the war, especially dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. He says there was no support system when he returned. The day he left Vietnam, his officer asked him where he was going and gave him a check for the transportation expenses. That was it.

So that’s why this marker is so special to McVay and Lombard.

“I was raised with respect and dignity, so a simple thank you is the same as embracing me physically and saying I appreciate you,” Lombard said. “The more I think about it the more emotional I get.”

The markers date back to 1947, thanks to the National Garden Club. It started as a beautification idea through the planting of 8,000 dogwood trees along highway U.S. 22 in New Jersey, a symbol of helping veterans come back from a dark place. Over time it evolved into honoring veterans through the Blue Star Memorial Highway program, with the mission that these veterans will never be forgotten.

There are now 3,000 markers across the United States, with 176 in Florida and nine in the Miami area. Each marker is surrounded by a bed of flowers.

The club’s decision to put the markers on highways meant veterans coming home by train, car or bus could see them as they arrived home.

At Fuchs Park, veterans and their families were dressed in military attire. One woman wore a red, white and blue American flag sweater, and another was dressed in an authentic Revolutionary War outfit.

The Miami Honor Guard walked side by side in unison during the opening ceremony and were led by Robert Latimer, a professional bagpiper and Vietnam vet, who also has played at the 9/11 memorial.

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USMC Col. Michael Farrell, chief of staff at U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South and keynote speaker, salutes the flag during the dedication of the Blue Star Memorial Marker at Fuchs Park in South Miami on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

The keynote speaker was Col. Michael Farrell, chief of staff and second in command of the Marine Corps Forces, U.S. Southern Command.

“Groups like the Garden Club are just as important as what we do overseas,” Ferrell said. “Too often we stay inside our little bubble. We have to take advantage to meet people and put our faces out there. We have such a tight-knit community, and it’s important to expand in such a large urban environment like Miami where the military can be hidden.”

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