'Pavers' honor veterans, civilians at Victoria Education Gardens

Jack Goodwin, a master gardener intern, lays pavers at the Victoria Educational Gardens. Veterans were on hand Saturday as 149 memorial bricks were placed in honor of military veterans and civilian loved ones.

Sgt. A.J. Ramirez wears a bracelet on his left wrist to remember a fallen soldier he served with in the Vietnam War.

On Saturday, he and other war veterans and former servicemen visited the Victoria Educational Gardens to witness the Victoria County Master Gardeners lay memorial bricks, known as pavers, to honor servicemen and women, as well as civilian loved ones.

Ramirez bought seven pavers, at $25 a piece, to pay tribute to his buddies in the Marine Corps.

"In the Marine Corps, we're a real tight family," he said. "You always respect the generation that came before you."

The pavers were not just for servicemen who fought in Vietnam with him, but also for the previous generations of Marines he formed tight bonds with including one who served in the Korean War, which has come into the public spotlight recently as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the war.

It is known as the "forgotten" war because it was sandwiched in between the two major conflicts of World War II and Vietnam.

But Ramirez doesn't much care for historians' designations. Servicemen are important to him no matter what war they fought in.

"It's a commitment that you have to each other," he said. "You want to honor it because there were a lot of sacrifices made."

The Victoria County Master Gardeners Association sold pavers to honor military men and women as well as civilians this year. The sale began in January as a fundraiser to cover expenses for the newly built expo in the garden facility.

The master gardeners hadn't sold pavers in two years, said Brynn Lee, who chairs the pavers project.

Lee said the memorial in the garden features representation from just about every branch of the military - even from the Army Cavalry, the infantry that moved on horseback as late as World War II. A man who served in the Army Air Corps, the first incarnation of the Air Force, is also represented.

Tommy Akins served in the Navy and is currently training to become a master gardener.

He bought a paver honoring himself because he wants future generations to remember his service, he said.

"When I'm gone, my kids and grandkids can see it," he said. Akins has three children and six grandchildren. He plans on taking his son, who lives in California, to see it the next time he visits.

Lee spoke to each of the veterans and family members who bought pavers over the phone.

"I talked to each one of these people and got to hear the heartfelt stories," said Brynn Lee, who chairs the paver project.

Being the chair of this project has elevated the level of esteem Lee holds for servicemen and women.

"To have that closeness that you want to do something like that to honor your fellow (service members), it's very touching," she said.

For Ramirez, the names on those bricks form an integral part of his identity.

"In the Marine Corps we're taught from day one about our history and our tradition," he said. "We choose to remember it and honor those guys who came before us because they made us who we are."