WICHITA, Kan. - Among the names etched into the black stone of the newest memorial in Wichita's Veterans Memorial Park is that of Anita Dixon's son, Sgt. Evan Parker.
Three years after he died in 2005 from injuries he suffered in Iraq, Anita walked through the park. She decided then to make it her mission to create a memorial that would honor his sacrifice and that of the many others who have been killed in recent wars.
"I think everyday I have grown a little stronger and I think it was something needed in my life. I needed to do this," Dixon said.
Saturday afternoon, more than 6 years after beginning that journey, her vision for the Operation Freedom Memorial officially became a reality.
Dixon and others helped dedicate the memorial in front of a crowd of hundreds.
"I was in awe when people kept coming and arriving," Dixon said. "When I looked out and got to the podium to speak, I was in awe."
Among those in the crowd wiping away tears was El Dorado's Linda Stewart whose brother-in-law, Staff Sgt. Vincent Brian Atkinson III, was killed in 2010.
"It's just an honor and it's just awesome that people can come here and honor the loved ones lost," Stewart said.
Keynote speaker Capt. Nick Williams, an active duty service member who is based at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., echoed that sentiment.
"It is our responsibility as countrymen and neighbors to support, honor, and remember this sacrifice," Williams said as he addressed the audience. "Thankfully, Kansas didn't take the responsibility of this reality lightly."
Williams is a board member of the Operation Freedom Memorial Foundation.
He highlighted that most memorials are built years after a conflict is over. But he says, with this memorial, that is not the case.
"Kansas didn't wait that long. Kansas started a project in the midst of the battle so that soldiers returning home would have a place to grieve, a place to contemplate, and a place to heal," Williams said. "The significance of this sanctuary can not be understated."
With that significance in mind, Anita says the long journey to this day, the many obstacles she and her team have had to overcome, have all been worth it.
She says she hopes her son would be proud that she never gave up.
"Thank you for the community support, thank you for everybody that helped out along the way, and (thank you) especially to everybody that believed," Dixon said.