FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — The U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School unveiled a new brick walkway and sculpture during a dedication ceremony held Monday at Fort Leonard Wood’s Chemical Memorial Grove.
“This is the most significant improvement we’ve ever had to our memorial grove, and it’s been a long time coming,” said the guest speaker, retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, who served as the 24th Chief of Chemical and commanding officer of the USACBRNS from 2006 until 2008.
Throughout the grove, which serves as a place to honor fallen Chemical Soldiers and Goldstar families and to inspire service for current and future generations, the new brick walkway is made up of more than 1,800 donated bricks bearing the names of all Chemical Corps soldiers recorded during of conflicts dating back to World War I lost their lives in combat.
The new sculpture depicts a series of crossed retorts – the insignia of the Chemical Corps – and sits atop two pillars placed near the memorial’s entrance.
Inside the sculpture is a time capsule containing items selected by current leaders of the USACBRNS and the 3rd Chemical Brigade. The pod is slated to open on the 150th anniversary of the Chemical Corps in 2068, according to CBRNS Operations Officer Russ Gehrlein.
The purpose of both supplements is to tell the story of the fallen to future generations, he said.
While reasons for military service vary from person to person, there is a common understanding that service involves sacrifice, up to and including one’s life, USACBRNS Commander Col. Sean Crockett said at the ceremony.
“There is no greater sacrifice than giving your life for the greater good,” he said. “The ramifications of this ultimate sacrifice are rippling through our communities, touching more than just the lives of their loved ones and friends. When their stories are shared in our neighborhoods, our homes, our schools, and our places of worship, these men and women become part of the collective identity of our hometowns.”
To make the ceremony special, family members of Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, who was killed in action in Niger on Oct. 4, 2017 while serving with 3rd Special Forces Group, and Master Sgt. Hugh Whitacre, who died on Oct Died November 26, 1950 in the Republic of Korea, walked first through the new archway and was escorted down the path to the bricks bearing the names of her soldiers.
For Johnson’s father, Edward JW Johnson – known as JW – who has attended previous events here honoring his son, including Johnson’s induction into the Hall of Fame in June, this ceremony was different than others.
“This one hurt, not just for my son but overall — there are so many names,” he said. “When you look back at all the sacrifices that all these people have made, it hits you. It’s personal, but also something you share with everyone.”
JW was escorted by Sgt. Maj. Joshua Warehime, USACBRNS sergeant major for personnel development, who has a special connection to the younger Johnson — he served with him from 2015-2017 while assigned to the 14th Chemical Reconnaissance Branch at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It was an honor for him to escort the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the circle came full.
“Hopefully knowing that I served alongside his son helped make the dedication ceremony a little more personable,” he said. “I know it did for me.”
The ceremony ended with the 399th Army Band playing taps and the traditional lone piper fading into the distance to the tune of “Amazing Grace.”
With their names carved in stone at memorials like the one at Chemical Memorial Grove, the stories of the soldiers who paid the ultimate price for freedom while serving in the Chemical Corps will live on, Crockett said.
“Woven into the fabric of our country are those who died wearing our nation’s clothing,” Crockett said. “The stories of their victims live on in the proud memories of their loved ones, at memorial services and through inscriptions on monuments and plaques dedicated to the legacy of their generation.”