Opinion: Memorial represents the best of Scottsdale

As a Scottsdale community historian, I’ve had the privilege of researching and sharing Scottsdale veterans’ history at events, meetings and in history columns.

I’ve made it my mission to learn as much as I can about our military and veterans’ history, and how our past and present residents have served their country and their community.

I’m proud to say that Scottsdale has been a model community for welcoming, saluting and treasuring our service members and veterans and their families.

On Saturday, March 18, Scottsdale and its neighboring communities had a significant opportunity to honor 66 fallen military heroes who never had the chance to become veterans.

Nine years in the making, the Scottsdale Memorial for the Fallen was dedicated on the East Lawn of Scottsdale City Hall. Its purpose and process are shining examples of the best of Scottsdale.

In 2014, U.S. Marine Corps retired major and Scottsdale High graduate Jim Geiser gathered a small committee of veterans and two military spouses to brainstorm how Scottsdale could honor area residents who had died on active duty during war or other military service.

Jim, then involved in a similar project at ASU to honor its fallen military alumni, was totally dedicated to creating a memorial for Scottsdale’s fallen.

After gaining enthusiastic approval from the city for the monument, Jim spent countless hours researching the names that should be memorialized. He visited every local cemetery looking for gravestones, spent hours on genealogy websites and looked up obituaries in old newspapers.

Jim and his committee raised over $300,000 to fund the monument. Sadly, Jim Geiser lost a short battle with cancer in August 2022, just as we were about to break ground on the memorial. The committee, plus Jim’s brother Ken on the East Coast, the monument’s contractors and the City of Scottsdale picked up where Jim left off.

The monument’s 66 honored fallen were residents of Scottsdale, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. Most attended a Scottsdale Unified School District high school. They served in the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force; one served in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Three are World War I casualties, 25 lost their lives in World War II, six were lost during the Korean War era, 25 are casualties of the Vietnam War era and seven have been lost in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. A dozen are buried in overseas military cemeteries or lost at sea, and a few are interred at Arlington and other national cemeteries.

Beyond creating a monument to local military service members who sacrificed their lives for our country, there are several other aspects of the memorial that demonstrate Scottsdale’s heart and soul.

First, it has been privately funded, in partnership with the City of Scottsdale, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community and other entities and donors. Second, it is another example of how a small group of dedicated volunteers can make a difference in Scottsdale. Third, and indicative of our times, it demonstrates how a far-flung committee (with members across the Valley and U.S.) can use online meeting technology to create a project of lasting importance.

Please visit Scottsdale’s Memorial for the Fallen, pause to reflect on the lives tragically cut short, and say their names. Giving voice to their names helps keep the legacies of the fallen alive for this and future generations.

Joan Fudala, U.S. Air Force, retired, is a member of the Scottsdale Memorial for the Fallen Committee.

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