On the 20th anniversary of troops first being deployed to Afghanistan, Nassau County officials Thursday broke ground on a new memorial honoring the U.S. service members who fought during the decadeslong conflict and later during the war in Iraq.
The monument, which will at Veterans Memorial Park in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, will be Long Island's first to memorialize the victims of the nation's newest wars. Eisenhower Park already has monuments honoring each branch of the Armed Forces along with veterans who served in earlier wars including World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
"Now finally our most recent conflicts will be memorialized as well," said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. "With this memorial we finally get to honor the next generation of Americans who have chosen to serve. When completed this memorial will be … one of the first in the state to honor the servicemen and women who served during the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq."
The monument, designed by Maya Fernandez, 23, of Franklin Square, will feature an image of a battle cross in the center flanked on either side by two marble walls — featuring images of a kneeling male soldier and a kneeling female soldier and maps of Iraq and Afghanistan. The memorial will not feature any names but could include a ribbon to highlight service members who took their own lives after leaving the service.
The county is seeking to raise roughly $100,000 for the memorial, which will be built through a public-private partnership with Heroes Among Us, a Glen Cove nonprofit that supports veterans across the region, the United Veterans Organization of Nassau County and local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. The groups have already raised $18,000 and will host a fundraiser Oct. 15 in Freeport.
County officials said they don't have a timeline for completing the memorial but hope to unveil it in 2022.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 4,281 Nassau residents have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001. At least 56 Long Islanders have died in the two wars, including 21 from Nassau County — 16 in Iraq and five in Afghanistan, according to Newsday records. Nationally more than 7,000 American soldiers have lost their lives in the two conflicts, records show. An estimated 50,000 veterans from all military conflicts live in Nassau, Curran said.
Iraq War veteran Matthew Schmidt of Massapequa, said too many of his brothers who served overseas felt a lack of support when they returned home. He hopes the memorial gives them a place to quietly reflect.
"A lot of guys are going to break down and get emotional," said Schmidt, who serves as president of the Nassau Police Veterans Association. "But they are going to feel supported, which they need."