Soon, veterans will have a forum where their personal stories and photos can be collected and stored for all time.
More importantly, the public can access the information by simply scanning a tag with their smartphone.
The tags will be incorporated into the Veterans Memory Plaza, which will be constructed at the Norfolk Veterans Home. The plaza is part of the Heroes Park — a $2.5 million, 8-acre green space being developed behind the home, said R.J. Gall, chairman of the Norfolk Veterans Home Foundation. The foundation is overseeing the project.
“The park is for the current residents of the veterans home and their families,” added Rick Wimer of West Point, foundation board member. “The flag plaza is for all veterans, living and deceased.”
Although the park will be located behind the home, the plaza will be situated in front of the facility and will employ a number of special features.
The focal point will be an eternal flame that will be visible from Benjamin Avenue, said Earl Boston. The owner of West Point Monument designed the plaza.
Flags representing the five branches of service will flank the plaza, and the American flag will be set in the forefront, Boston added.
“A tribute to the common soldier will be placed directly in front of the American flag and dedicated to all veterans,” he said.
The most unusual feature may be the memory tiles that include not only the veteran’s name, but also a smart tag that when scanned with an app on smartphone takes the viewer to a web page honoring the veteran.
“We wanted to give the families of veterans the capability of honoring and remembering their loved ones in a way that has never been possible before,” Boston said.
To create the website, an administrator — who can be a friend or family member — uploads the photos, stories and video, Boston said. He or she can change the content any time.
While the concept is appealing to honor veterans who have already died, it’s especially useful for those still living because their personal stories can still be captured on video.
“The key now is to get the video while the people are alive,” he added.
Boston developed the smart tag after seeing a similar item in a magazine. When scanned, the tag took the reader to a website that provided more information about the particular product.
He immediately saw a use for the technology in his business and now offers smart tags on headstones.
He has also created a smart card that when scanned takes the viewer to the veteran’s website. It’s about the size of a credit card, which makes it easy to carry in a wallet, Boston said.
As designed, the walls of the flag plaza will accommodate around 2,100 memory tiles, Wimer said. But the design allows for easy expansion.
“We hope we have to add another wall soon,” he said.
Gall agrees: “The tiles will be available even after the park is complete to help fund additional projects at the veterans home,” he said.
He added that they would make great Father’s Day gifts or ways to commemorate the Fourth of July, Veterans Day and other patriotic holidays
Regardless of how many tiles are sold or how big the plaza is, it promises to offer a sanctuary where veterans, their families and friends can remember and honor their loved ones.
“The Vietnam Memorial is referred to as the wall that heals,” Wimer said. “That is why we have the wall concept. It needs to be a private place where individuals can go and reflect, but it needs to be noticeable by the public so they can view it and appreciate the sacrifices by so many.”