JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – “This place has become hallowed ground,” said retired infantry Master Sargeant Fernando Schiefelbein who is now an operations specialist with Marine Corps Installations East.
It’s a place to reflect.
“It’s a way for them to remember their comrades that have passed away,” added Schiefelbein.
The Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville started as a simple idea.
“This whole garden it started growing because of the memorials, because of the Beirut Memorial,” said Schiefelbein. “That was our first memorial out here. This is all because of the bomb blast in Beirut, Lebanon back in 1983. It was a Mercedes Benz truck with 12,000 pounds of TNT. It ran right into the center of the building and blew everyone up. So you had 241 marines, sailors, and soldiers that died. They were a peace keeping force It’s a very somber place.”
Even more so when your ties to it run deep.
“I know 18 guys on the wall,” said a man who was cleaning the grounds around the Beirut Memorial. “I’m still close to them, their families. It’s amazing that it’ll be 34 years this October. They’re called the boys because they never got anywhere else but the boys. Most of them were between the ages of 17 and 23 or 24. We were all boys. We weren’t men. We were boys.”
“The gentleman points at the wall and says well that’s my son,” added Schiefelbein. “What do you say when you have the parents and your son is on the wall? Now if that’s not heart wrenching I’m not sure what is.”
One of the newest memorials recognizes the marines of Montford Point. It was a training ground for African American marines back in the 1940’s. Each star on the wall represents one of the 20,000 men who were trained there.
“You can’t name them all,” explained Schiefelbein. “I say that because unfortunately, back then they didn’t have any record books for these folks. Their motto… is we fought to fight because it took them a lot of fight to be allowed to fight in the service. The Vietnam Memorial. This memorial here is unique, a little more unique than the one you see in D.C. You’ve got the 58,229 names etched in glass and they’re alphabetical.”
While many come to reflect on the past, Schiefelbein and others look ahead to the future.
“The Museum of the Marine is going to be a big asset to us,” said Schiefelbein. “That’s in the beginning stages. A big motto around here is that you will never forget. You will be remembered for everything you’ve done and the sacrifices that you’ve done for us to have our liberties and do everything we’re able to do today.”