It started as a simple remembrance; a collection of wooden monuments displaying the names and faces of fallen troops.
In 2003, neighbors in the Village of Northwood wanted to find a way to acknowledge members of the military who had been recently lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They took it upon themselves to create a memorial in their community park, decorating it with flags and yellow ribbons and lovingly lighting it with candles.
What began as a personal community statement of remembrance became the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, the first place in the nation to honor those who died serving their country during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Today, thanks to volunteer efforts and funding from the City of Irvine, the homemade wooden memorials have been replaced by five granite sentinels that are engraved with over 6,000 names. They stand prominently at the corner of Bryan and Yale Avenues, acting as a silent but constant reminder of service for those who cross this busy intersection every day.
On Monday, May 25th, there will be a Memorial Day ceremony at 4pm to express gratitude for those who have served their country and to honor those who were unable to return. It will be a time to feel pride for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But it will also be a time to feel pride for the community that chose not to forget them.
The ceremony will honor all of America's Fallen Heroes. The names of those who fell in Afghanistan between September 30, 2014 and December 31, 2014 (the official end of Operation Enduring Freedom) will be read aloud and candles lit in their memory.
If you can't make it to the ceremony, stop by sometime over the holiday to remember what Memorial Day is all about. There, behind the memorial, you'll find a smaller remembrance.
A few feet behind the granite sentinels stands a lone, wooden stake displaying a hand-written letter. It was written by Sgt. Jacob Lee Butler on April 1, 2003; two hours before he was killed in action.
"Dear Mom and Dad, If you are reading this, I did not make it."
The letter ends with a simple sentiment that could be echoed by all of those whose names are written here.
"I love you. Don't forget me."
The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial is located within the Northwood Community Park at:4531 Bryan Avenue
Irvine, CA 92620
This the intersection of Bryan Avenue and Yale Avenue in the Northwood Village area of the city of Irvine.