Veteran’s Park unveils Wall of Faces

Veterans and friends look for names as the new wall honoring the 47 Viet Nam killed in action soldiers at the Ocala/Marion County Veterans Memorial Park was unveiled on Thursday May 27, 2021. Steve Johnston worked for about 7 years finding the pictures of those killed so he could get this memorial built. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could see it completed. Friends of Marion County Veteran’s Park along community sponsors completed the wall. [Alan Youngblood/Special to the Ocala Gazette]

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Posted May 28, 2021 | By Beth Whitehead, Special to the Ocala Gazette, Photos by Alan Youngblood

Memorial features faces and bios of local Vietnam vets killed in action

A new monument at the Ocala-Marion County Veteran’s Memorial Park honors the 47 Marion County veterans killed in action during the Vietnam War.

The Wall of Faces was unveiled on May 27 at the park located at 2601 E Fort King St. The new monument measures approximately 7 feet by 5 feet and presents the faces, names, and bios of the fallen 47 people embossed into the tile structure, according to Ron Opplinger, chairman of the Friends of Marion County Veteran’s Park (FMCVP) and a Vietnam veteran.

After the Vietnam and the 9/11 Traveling Memorial Walls visited the park in 2018 and 2019, several of those moved by the installations formed the FMCVP foundation with the vision of designing a permanent monument honoring Marion County’s fallen Vietnam War veterans.

The late Steve Johnson, a former student of Ocala High School and friend of fallen servicemen, inspired the wall. In 2017, Johnson started researching the classmates that shipped out to fight in the war and discovered that 47 Marion County soldiers were killed in action during the conflict.

“It took him probably a year or two to figure out where everybody was…” Opplinger said. “He got their birthdates, their KIA dates, where they were killed in Vietnam, all the medals that they got and put that together in a bio.”

The park displayed the paper bios until the wall was ready. Located on the east side of the park’s office, the Wall of Faces was made possible through community donations. Materials for the wall were donated by area businesses, Opplinger said.

“It’s a good community…they give from their heart,” he said.

Marion County Veteran’s Park is a non-profit park, which means that the funds, labor, and materials for the various memorials have all been donated. The six-acre park, complete with more than 5,000 commemorative bricks, 200 benches, and 100 plaques, was founded in 1997 by a group of local veterans headed up by late Thomas Needham, said Jeffrey Askew, director of Marion County Veterans Services.

Opplinger said the park honors conflicts from all eras.

“What we’re doing in the future is adding all these new conflicts to represent all the young veterans’ brothers and sisters that have been in conflicts or been in the service in that time,” he said.

Opplinger estimates there are nearly a dozen projects the FMCVP hopes to complete within the next five to seven years, including a largescale monument near the corner of Southeast 25th Avenue and Silver Springs Boulevard. Three granite spears will thrust 20 feet into the air and will be lit by red, white, and blue lights after dark. An American flag will punctuate the spears.

Monuments for other actions, including Afghanistan and Desert Storm, as well as the Korean War, are also planned.

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