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‘Many heroes’: La Jolla’s Mount Soledad veterans memorial begins expansion project

Phase III will add extensions to five existing ‘honor walls,’ allowing for 2,000 additional plaques.

As fog dispersed over the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial in La Jolla this week, a small crowd gathered to watch community leaders, donors and advocates put spades in the ground to begin the third phase of memorials.

The National Veterans Memorial is a series of “honor walls” bearing plaques of veterans and their service records. Phase III will add extensions to five existing walls, allowing for 2,000 additional plaques.

The memorial currently has spaces for 5,400 plaques on 11 walls and four benches.

At the Aug. 16 groundbreaking ceremony and reception, Neil O’Connell, executive director of the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, which oversees the site, said “we have a long project ahead of us. Five walls, the majestic black granite, the plaques. … They’re going to be put in place as soon as we get these walls in, trust me.”

Phil Kendro, president and chief executive of the Memorial Association, said the expansion will help the nonprofit stay true to its mission to honor and preserve “the legacy of our veterans.”

“Our memorial is successful because of a motivating team,” including donors, architects, construction firms, plaque designers and installers, volunteers, trustees and office staff, Kendro said.

The beauty of the memorial, O’Connell said, is that its design includes “the stories of so many heroes.”

The expansion work will be carried out by GDC Construction Inc., a La Jolla-based company run by Pancho Dewhurst.

Dewhurst’s grandfather, Walter Dewhurst, built the current version of the Soledad Cross in 1954. GDC Construction built the first walls of the Veterans Memorial in 2000.

At the groundbreaking, Pancho Dewhurst said he’s honored that GDC is contracted for the project’s continuation. He said he has many fond memories of hearing veterans’ stories through his family’s long-standing involvement.

La Jolla resident and Marine veteran Jack McGrory said the memorial sits on “sacred, hallowed ground. … We want to make sure that this is the best war memorial in the United States.”  

The Mount Soledad memorial differs from other veterans memorials in that it honors those both living and deceased from the American Revolution to the current war on terrorism and contains their stories, pictures and accomplishments on the plaques.

The site draws thousands of visitors to Mount Soledad for Veterans Day and Memorial Day observances run by the Memorial Association.

The memorial, at 6905 La Jolla Scenic Drive South, is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. For more information, visit soledadmemorial.org.