JEFFERSONTOWN, Kentucky — Rodger McAlister visited Jeffersontown Veterans Memorial Park with his wife as he does every year on Memorial Day.
When the new park sought funding 20 years ago, he purchased a few bricks to memorialize friends and fellow service members. Monday, he pointed out an important one to WHAS11's Ian Hardwitt.
“This is Bill Hingston,” McAlister said. “Captain of the West Point hockey team in 1963. And he was my replacement.”
During the Vietnam War, McAlister was a gunship helicopter pilot for the 1st Air Cavalry Division. He trained Hingston, but the newly-trained pilot died after an unforeseen enemy shot down the helicopter.
Hingston wasn’t the only one who gave their life, far from home.
“Even though I gave, there was people that gave more,” Lorden “Don” Wood said, sitting in front of a wall honoring several branches of the US Military.
He said people don’t understand “what you go through when you’re in combat,” and that he “had one very, very special friend that didn’t make it.”
A group of motorcyclists came to honor Wood, his fallen friend, and so many others. Two amongst them, twin brothers and Cuban immigrants, shared their gratitude.
“We rode up here, all together, to honor the fallen on this day of remembrance,” Freddy Garcia said.
Him and his brother Alex came to the United States from Cuba when they were 15 in 2004.
“I haven’t been here my whole life,” Alex Garcia said. “But I feel like this country’s mine and it deserves my respect, my admiration, and I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough. I mean, this country made me a free person. Something that in my country—my own country—that I couldn’t be.”
Wood wanted them to know he appreciated everyone who was there.
“It seems like this Memorial Day—for some reason, I don’t know why—seems closer to my heart,” he said.
It was close to McAlister’s heart too. For most of his life, he wondered if he could have done more for Hingston, the pilot who came to replace him nearly 60 years ago.
“It’s called survivor’s guilt,” McAlister explained. “And I’ve carried that for a long time. And I understand better, because all the people around me, know me, and saw the training, and know that we did all the right stuff. And he did all the right stuff. But people get killed in wars, and Bill Hingston was one of those. And he was a marvelous guy.”
The Jeffersontown Veterans Memorial Park features the Freedom Wall which salutes the United States military branches and service members.
Also at the park is the Walk of Veterans. It currently has 3,000 inscribed brick pavers to honor individual veterans.