Ribbon cutting marks opening of Virginia War Memorial expansion

Several hundred people including Gold Star families and national, state and local leaders attend the dedication day and grand opening of the Virginia War Memorial’s new C. Kenneth Wright Pavilion and the Shrine of Memory for the Global War on Terrorism and Beyond Feb. 29, 2020, in Richmond, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

RICHMOND, Va. — More than 800 people, including Gold Star families and national, state and local leaders attended the dedication day and grand opening of the Virginia War Memorial’s new C. Kenneth Wright Pavilion and the Shrine of Memory for the Global War on Terrorism and Beyond Feb. 29, 2020, in Richmond, Virginia. 

The dedication of the $25 million expansion, which doubles the size of the memorial, happened on the 64th anniversary of the museum’s initial dedication on Feb. 29, 1956. 

The new Shrine of Memory on the outside of the expansion mirrors the original Shrine of Memory, and includes the names of 174 Virginians, etched in glass, who have made the ultimate sacrifice during the war on terrorism since 1982. They include the names of nine Virginia National Guard Soldiers, killed in action between 2004 and 2008. 

“These were our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters,” said Clay Mountcastle, director of the Virginia War Memorial. “They were mothers and fathers, and they were our friends. They came from all parts of Virginia, from all backgrounds and all branches of service, and they represented all that is good about our home.”

(U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

Several Gold Star families attended the event. Gold Star parents helped cut the ribbon in front of the new shrine, including Vic Mason, father of Sgt. Nicholas Mason, a VNG Soldier killed in Iraq in 2004 whose name is etched in the glass of the new shrine. For Mason, it was an emotional and meaningful event. 

“It’s a continuing memory of all of the people who have made the sacrifice,” said Mason. “The Soldiers, the families – it’s just a wonderful thing.”

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins and retired Gen. John Jumper all spoke during the event, highlighting the importance of honoring the sacrifices made by the men and women whose names reside on the memorial. 

“What a wonderful occasion to see this beautiful facility and know that we in Virginia are honoring all who serve and especially those who lost their lives in service,” said Kaine. “We are blessed to live in a commonwealth that is more connected to America’s military mission than any other state.”

Gold Star parents helped perform the ceremonial ribbon cutting, including Vic Mason, father of Virginia National Guard Soldier Sgt. Nicholas Mason, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

“In Virginia, we always want to make sure that we step up and provide every potential resource, every opportunity to recognize those men and women who serve,” added Hopkins. “It’s such a point of pride when I come here and I see the flags flying, I see those names on the wall, and I remember what it is they truly give. That’s what this expansion is about. It’s about telling those stories.”

Jumper, who served as the 17th Chief of Staff for the Air Force, spoke about the meaning behind the expansion, honoring those who were lost fighting against terrorism.

“From the first name to the last on this honor role are the names of young Virginians who answered the call of duty, who ventured into harm’s way to resist the radical forces dedicated to our destruction, enemies that only know the doctrine of hatred,” said Jumper. “On this day we dedicate an expansion of the Virginia War Memorial that provides us a distinctive place to honor the supreme sacrifices rendered by those Virginians.”

During the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, recited “In Flanders Fields,” a poem written during World War I by a Canadian officer after he presided over a funeral of a Soldier who died in combat. Local Native Americans also performed a tribal blessing on the new shrine, complete with ceremonial drumming and singing by the Chickahominy Nation’s Turtle Clan Drummers. 

The new shrine was constructed on top of concrete containing fragments and items from world conflicts, including sand from D-Day on Omaha Beach, fragments of the Pentagon from the 9/11 terror attacks and sand from a sandstorm in Iraq. 

The new C. Kenneth Wright Pavilion is a 25,000-square foot expansion to the original memorial, named for the donor who gave a $5 million gift to the Virginia War Memorial Foundation, the foundation’s largest-ever gift. It includes a new main entrance for the memorial, and exhibit hall and the Virginia Medal of Honor Gallery. 

It also includes a new Veterans Hall, made up of a 350-seat auditorium and a veterans art gallery, showcasing paintings and other works of art created by Virginia’s veterans. 

The new Pavilion is attached to the existing Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center, completed in 2010. The Education Center includes exhibit and classroom space a theater and the outdoor amphitheater. 

Mountcastle said the inclusion of educational and exhibit space is paramount to helping honor those the memorial was originally built for. 

“Having the memorial is one thing, having the monument is one thing, but in order to fully give context to those names and truly honor them, you have to create a living memorial with a real education mission,” said Mountcastle.

For more information about the nine VNG Soldiers whose names are listed on the new Shrine of Memory, click here: https://vaguard.dodlive.mil/remember_the_fallen/

For information about visiting the War Memorial, click here: https://vawarmemorial.org/