SWEETWATER, Okla. (KFOR) — The sounds of freedom echo far on the western edge of Oklahoma, a few miles from the Texas line, straddling Roger Mills and Beckham Counties.
On a blustery November Thursday a school choir practices for a Veterans Day program that stretches back to when teacher Charleen Carey taught 1st grade at the Sweetwater School.
She started these programs with the thought that she didn’t want to retire before establishing something that would last beyond her tenure.
“I didn’t feel like the children really understood what a veteran was and how important they were,” she recalls.
That feeling continued to run strong with Carey, her husband Bob, and their friends.
They all wanted something that would outlast their being able to say thanks to the veterans they knew.
She continues, “I wanted our children, most of all, to always have a place to go in remembrance of our veterans.”
Their idea: place a veterans memorial outside the school containing the names of every vet they could find from the area.
People laughed at first.
Charleen recalls, “Most people said, ‘you want to do what? and where?'”
Even Army lifers like Donnie Walker were dubious that a town as small as Sweetwater could raise something like $70,000.
“There were a lot of skeptics,” he agrees, “but believe it or not they hit the streets and before you knew it the money was rolling in.”
It took longer for the monument to be delivered than it did to raise the money to buy it.
Something in the idea resonated with the people here.
Maybe it was the names, many of whom they knew personally.
Among the 1,200 engraved, Mary Jane Mayes, an Army nurse who served in the Civil War, Jerry Kincaid, who served a combat tour in Vietnam with Donnie Walker, and Bob Carey’s son Greg who served in Iraq.
“And those people are always going to be remembered,” Charleen insists.
Put to song, a sound spreads for a little while and dies on the the wind.
Set in stone, a gesture of appreciation puts down deep roots that spread and last generations.
The first phase of the Sweetwater Veterans Memorial was installed in 2009.
Two more panels of additional names have been added since.
No veteran had to pay to get their name written in stone.
Great State is sponsored by Oklahoma Proton Center