About halfway between La Grange and Bastrop, nestled on the banks of the Colorado River, lies the town of Smithville, Texas; population: 3,817.
It’s an idyllic Texas town with a brick-and-mortar Main Street that retains the charm of an earlier era. And though it may be small, Smithville’s contributions to Texas and to the United States are extraordinary.
Since its founding in 1827, this Texas town has established an incredible tradition of military service. For nearly two centuries, its sons and daughters have answered the call to serve their country.
From the ranks of General Sam Houston’s army, to the war-torn fields of France, to the valleys of Afghanistan – and everywhere in between – Smithville has always stood on the frontlines of history.
This has not been without sacrifice. Between 2006 and 2011, Smithville and the surrounding region lost seven of its own in Iraq and Afghanistan – three falling in the line of duty in less than twelve months.
In a community of this size, the loss is felt throughout. As resident Lucille Bartsch put it, “When something happens to somebody, it happens to everybody.”
With each loss, the people of Smithville banded together in an outpouring of love and community strength. They knew that they needed to do something to permanently honor the memory of their neighbors and make sure their sacrifices would never be forgotten.
Under the leadership of Mayor Mark Bunte, the town undertook an ambitious project to construct a park that would rightfully memorialize these heroes of Smithville, as well as all Texans who have served in the military. They envisioned a place where the community could gather to “pay homage to all families whose husbands, wives, sons, and daughters have given the ultimate sacrifice,” as Mayor Bunte explained.
After nearly three years of tireless work, the Smithville Texas Veterans Memorial Park will officially open this Memorial Day. I am honored to have the privilege of participating in the dedication ceremony on Monday morning.
We will dedicate this park to all the men and women who have stood bravely on the frontlines of freedom and fought off the dark and tyrannical forces that would do us harm. We will dedicate it to the veterans living amongst us, and the veterans who live on in our hearts.
And we will dedicate it to Pfc. Tina Priest, Spc. Joshua Farris, Captain Joshua Meadows, Lance Cpl. Cody Stanley, Sgt. Mario Rodriguez, Staff Sgt. Joe Altman, and Chief Petty Officer Matthew Mills – the heroes of Bastrop County who laid down their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan so that we could live freely.
Liberty is the birthright of all Americans. But liberty requires constant guardians – it needs brave men and women willing to take up arms in its defense. Smithville has produced more than its fair share of such guardians. In doing so, it has come to embody the very best of the American spirit, and this park is a testament to that.
In the face of tragedy, the people of Smithville have shown love and resolve. At every turn they have shown what great strength can be drawn from living by a simple commandment: love thy neighbor.
While this park cannot fill the hole left in the hearts of the bereaved, I hope that it will bring solace through the fact that the memory of those to whom it is dedicated will never be forgotten.
This Memorial Day, let us rededicate ourselves to the great founding principles of our Republic that so many men and women have given their lives to defend. May we count each day as a gift from the fallen; may we endeavor to be worthy of this gift; and may God always bless Texas and the United States of America.