Robert Gillette remembers how deeply affected he was during his years in the Navy each time he watched a shipmate lay eyes for the first time on a baby born while the sailors were at sea.
Gillette, president of the Howard County Veterans Foundation, said a top goal of the new Howard County Veterans Monument will be to elicit an emotional response similar to that joy military families feel when they're reunited after a deployment.
"The welcome-home embrace that families share after a ship returns from deployment is a vivid memory in my mind and we want the monument to capture that emotion," said Gillette, an Allentown, Pa., native who joined the Navy in 1992 and served on active duty for eight years before moving to Howard County in 2000.
A public dedication of the site of the future monument will be held from 11 a.m. to noon June 3 in the area near the fountain at Lake Kittamaqundi in downtown Columbia, next to Whole Foods Market.
Scheduled to join Gillette at the ceremony will be retired Maj. Gen. Howard Mooney, a member of the Howard County Commission on Veterans and Military Families; County Executive Allan H. Kittleman; Greg Fitchitt, vice president of development at Howard Hughes Corp.; and Milton Matthews, Columbia Association president. The Oakland Mills High School JROTC Color Guard will participate.
Gillette said the foundation chose the word "monument" to differentiate the project from a memorial. Members feel memorials primarily honor the past, he said, and they have a firm vision for the message they want the monument to convey.
It will not be a war memorial with a soldier holding a gun, he said.
"The concept for this monument revolves around family," said Gillette, a married father of two sons. "The idea is to create a central place to celebrate and give thanks for our veterans, while also recognizing the service and support of family members."
Saturday's site dedication will pave the way to begin soliciting design entries and to launch fundraising efforts for the project, which may take up to two years to complete, he said. A pedestal with a plaque will be erected for the ceremony to mark the spot of the monument, which Gillette estimates will cost $500,000.
Lisa Terry, manager of the county's Office of Veterans and Military Families, said the county provided the veterans foundation with $25,000 in seed money for planning and design.
She also noted that 25,000 square feet of public space has been donated for the site in a land use agreement between the county and Howard Hughes Corp., downtown Columbia's master developer.
"We are so grateful for the visibility of this location on the lakefront," Terry said.
Kittleman noted that about 20,000 veterans live in the county, 14,000 residents commute to jobs at Fort George G. Meade and more than 1,000 students in county public schools have a parent on active duty.
"There are an awful lot of people here who are involved with the military in one way or another, so building this monument is the right thing to do," he said. "We're very excited about it."
As to what the monument will look like or what material will be used, Gillette said, "All options are on the table, but the design will be contemporary and will fall within the larger Columbia vision."
Veterans will also be encouraged to submit a concept for the monument, which, if chosen, could be further fleshed out by a professional artist, he said.
For more information or to donate to the monument, go to howardcountyveterans.org.
A goal of the monument site will be to create a place for reflection and healing, aspects of the project that are especially important to veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, Gillette said.
This will be achieved in large part by the landscape design, which will incorporate benches and other seating areas on a brick plaza to encourage people to "congregate and contemplate."
Gillette also sees the site as a natural gathering place for ceremonies to commemorate Memorial Day, Veterans' Day, Flag Day and Independence Day.
Mooney, an Ellicott City resident who retired in 1999 after 35 years in the Army, is thrilled that Howard County is getting a monument, saying he believes it's overdue.
"Bob Gillette has been a dynamo and the driving force behind this project, and he's put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it," he said, adding that Howard County is one of only a few jurisdictions in the state with no veterans' memorial.
"This is something constituents have been asking the county commission to do," Mooney said, "and now we're able to check off the box that it's finally getting done."