The citizens of Federal Way have a reason to be proud of their local government during these difficult times. When so much of the news cycle seems dedicated to what’s broken, our local community and government leaders were working together to reflect our values in a public and visible way. Visitors to the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center will be greeted by a memorial to our nation’s armed services to accompany the breathtaking views of Mount Rainier. This project was the brainchild of the Federal Way Mayor’s Memorial Committee convened by Mayor Jim Ferrell.
Federal Way, despite being a major local city with a considerable veteran community; lacked a memorial of any kind to the brave men and women who have served in defense of the values of our fine Republic. Mayor Ferrell understands the positive influence that the flag can have in inspiring the very best in us. In explaining the meaning of this to him he said: "For me, when I see the beauty of the flag unfurled, I think of her resiliency. No symbol of democracy or freedom has endured more than our flag and the people it represents. Under her shadow we continue in our effort to become that ‘more perfect union.’” Recognizing this oversight, a committee was convened to plan an appropriate monument in the months before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, like so much in all our lives this disease railroaded the committee’s efforts. A global health crisis, ever-changing information, and lives in disarray nearly combined to completely halt this project. But veterans aren’t exactly known for accepting mission failure, and this project was no different.
For Roger Flygare, the Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1741, himself a Vietnam veteran, this project was personal. Roger, along with many Vietnam veterans remember a time before the tragedies of September 11th, a time when veterans very rarely acknowledged in public that they had served. He recalls:
"The local veteran groups were virtually hidden. It was like they were hidden in plain sight. On particular holidays established to celebrate our country and the people who stood up to tyranny and oppression, we would see a modest turnout to honor those valiant courageous members of our greater community. After the celebration was over, the lid was placed back and the recognition evaporated.”
The beauty of a monument however, is that this "lid” is never there. It serves as a reminder, uncomfortable if necessary, that this experiment in democracy is fledgling, precious, and tender. The morality of armed conflict as a means redressing grievances is a debate for the academy, the work of diplomats and elected leaders. But as Rudyard Kipling expressed more than a century ago, "ours is not to question why, ours is but to do and die.” Soldiers are a cross section of America, called on by America to solve our problems in times of need, whatever the circumstances. America calls on her soldiers to right wrongs, and to defend the defenseless.
Mayor Ferrell understands this. To him, the flag is a symbol, and symbols are very powerful. "For me, when I see the beauty of the flag unfurled, I think of her resiliency. No symbol of democracy or freedom has endured more than our flag and the people it represents. Under her shadow we continue in our effort to become that "more perfect union.” Together with steadfast faith in our founding principles, we will strive to achieve the hopes and dreams so many fought for and imagined under the living symbol that is our American Flag.”
Perhaps in this current political climate a sense of duty to something greater than self is the whole point. Soldiers are supposed to represent the very best, the most selfless in all of us. When the forces of nature combined to sideline this project the will of soldiers and our local leaders working together came through. They came through to show us that Americans can do hard things. They came through to show us that there are people who want to serve in the community as our elected leaders that are willing to cooperate on diverse interests. They came through to show that only by recognizing the most visible sacrifices in our communities; can we move on to appreciate all the sacrifices made in our communities.
King County Councilmember Peter von Reichbauer stated that "the Pavilion not only pays tribute to our servicemembers, but it recognizes that without their sacrifices, there would be no flag flying, no open pavilion, and most importantly, no freedom." It is the hope of the Committee Members and indeed of VFW Post 1741 that all who see this monument might take pause to remember the sacrifices of those past; and after, reflect how their example might direct the path forward. Not only for the city of Federal Way, but these United States.