A walk through the new National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus subtly takes visitors higher and higher, until they reach the pinnacle — a sobering and somber space called the "Remembrance Room."
From the regular playing of taps to the multicolored glass that represents every campaign ribbon in U.S. military history, it is clear that this is where the fallen will be honored.
As visitors stand in front of an encased, folded American flag, strategically placed mirrors offer its reflection. The "infinity flag" installation is no accident. The quote on the wall tells visitors why: If you are able, save a place for them inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go. Those are the words of Vietnam Army veteran Michael O'Donnell, and the quote was chosen as a final reminder of sacrifice, said Amy Taylor, chief operating operator of the museum's developer, the Downtown Columbus Development Corp.
"We wanted something powerful but respectful," Taylor said. "Everything about this space reminds you of the cost of freedom."
The exit from that room leads visitors out to the rooftop event space — which can hold up to 1,000 people — and to a path that takes them to the secluded 2.5-acre Memorial Grove down below. The grove's circular path features 251 trees and a 325-foot stone wall that features waterfalls and a reflecting pool. Two statues will be featured there — a Purple Heart monument and the Battlefield Cross, the memorializing symbol of a rifle, helmet, combat boots and dog tags.
Michael Ferriter, the retired Army lieutenant general who is president and CEO of the NVMM, said he envisions many veterans breaking off from their families, if even for a moment, to spend some time alone as they wander that grove.
"It's so beautiful, with many places of solace and sanctuary (where) someone can step away from their family, take a breath, take whatever time they need, and step back in," Ferriter said. "That's important."
Not overlooking the memorial aspect was critical in the planning of this facility, said retired Army Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich of Powell. He eventually became chairman of the advisory group of veterans who oversaw the process of what type of new building might replace the aging Franklin County Veterans Memorial that the county commissioners decided in 2013 to tear down.
That old space, built in 1955, certainly wasn't honoring veterans very somberly in its later years, Laich said, referring to concerts and the annual Arnold Sports Classic that it hosted.
"When Vets Memorial hosted Sexapalooza, that was a tipping point for me," Laich said. "It was just wrong and not what we wanted as a space to honor veterans."
The Franklin County commissioners spent about $5.2 million to tear the old building down and pledged $3 million toward this replacement.
This new memorial and museum have exceeded his hopes, Laich said.
"I hope that veterans will come away from it with an affirmation of the good that they have done," he said, "and I hope that the non-veterans come away better understanding the nature of military service and the sacrifice that is the nature of it."
The memorial is at 300 W. Broad St., in the area of the East Franklinton neighborhood known as the Scioto Peninsula. Hours are Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday. The museum will be open Monday in observance of Veterans Day. For more information, go to www.nationalvmm.org.