SAN DIEGO (KSWB) — Perched on one of San Diego’s most scenic vantage points lies the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, a memorial unlike any other.
“These walls with pictures of husbands and wives, or brothers, or servicemembers — there is no other memorial in the country that does this,” Executive Director Neil O’Connell told FOX 5.
More than 5,000 black granite plaques line the walls, each one sharing a unique story of courage and sacrifice.
“Every rank from every rank service, from the Revolutionary War to present-day. And there is no special wall set aside for rank or service or any point in time in history,” O’Connell continued.
Service is the centerpiece of the memorial. Anyone who was honorably discharged, no matter where they’re from, can have a plaque there. It’s that all-embracing mosaic of service that’s now growing even larger.
The memorial is building even more walls to honor and preserve the legacies of thousands more servicemembers.
“Five new walls which will provide us 2,000 more plaque spaces,” O’Connell said.
A part of that expansion is building on their existing website and creating an app where people can find the face they’re looking for — and the story behind their sacrifice — from anywhere in the world. But if you do step foot there, you’re in good hands.
“We’re supported by a team of 24 docents who take a watch up here and engage with the public, keep the memorial clean and tell the stories of these veterans that are on these walls,” O’Connell said.
They have a syllabus to study the remarkable military history remembered there, like Maj. Megan McClung, the first female Marine Corps officer killed in Iraq.
Combat photojournalist Amy Forsythe served alongside McClung, even training with her at Camp Pendleton before deployment.
“I often actually imagine her talking to me, to us, to our group and I can hear her voice even to this day,” Forsythe told FOX 5. “As the first female Marine officer to be killed in Iraq, that was significant and it got people’s attention.”
The memorial is doing its part to keep McClung’s memory alive, dedicating their Memorial Day ceremony to her this past May.
“I can’t thank the organization enough for making her the centerpiece, and especially being a woman and honoring that sacrifice,” Forsythe said. “Because oftentimes those heroes, those combat infantry Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, they’re the ones with the glory, but oftentimes, it’s the people in the background who also risked everything.”
McClung is remembered as an all-American girl who made the ultimate sacrifice, like so many of the heroes honored alongside her.
“Her mantra was be bold, be brief, be gone — and that’s the way she lived her life,” Forsythe said.
A life — along with the thousands honored there — worthy of such heights, standing tall for eternity, from dusk until dawn.