As longtime Columbus resident Ken Robinson looked out at the many U.S. veterans from all military branches on Wednesday, he couldn’t help but get a little choked up. His mind raced back to June 6th, 2013.
On that day 10 years ago, Robinson was on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, for the 69th anniversary of D-Day.
Considered the largest seaborne invasion in history, D-Day was the June 6, 1944, invasion of the beaches at Normandy in northern France by troops from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries during World War II. France at the time was occupied by the armies of Nazi Germany, and the massive assault landed some 156,000 Allied soldiers on the beaches of Normandy by the end of the day, according to History.
U.S. troops stormed the beaches coming off of the Higgins Boat, created by Columbus native Andrew Jackson Higgins.
Witnessing that anniversary ceremony in 2013 while on Omaha Beach in Normandy was a life-changing event for Robinson, who is the chairman of the American Legion Athletic Committee (of American Legion Hartman Post 84). It was there he saw two massive tour buses pull up and drop off children of different ages to take in history and show respect for those who served in the military.
“Here we were on Omaha Beach getting ready for the ceremony when, lo and behold, all these kids show up to take part in the American D-Day Ceremony,” Robinson recalled. “I thought, ‘If people 3,000 miles away can take the time to learn about and appreciate our veterans, why can’t our kids?’”
Robinson and the Columbus American Legion Baseball program for the past three years have made a point to honor veterans with military appreciation nights and have local and visiting players do some checking into their family connections to the military and be recognized on the field before the game in front of those in attendance to share.
But on Wednesday, July 19th, 2023, the Columbus American Legion Baseball Board, players, American Legion Hartman Post 84 officials and dozens of community members gathered at Pawnee Park Baseball Field to formally unveil the “Wall of Heroes. It’s a memorial wall that honors all branches of the military and late resident William “Bill” Jackson, who was a local staple of Columbus area baseball and a loved educator for decades. Learn more about Jackson and the Wall by reading the City’s previously-published story. You can find Part I by clicking here.
The Jackson family – the late Jackson’s wife, Jeanette; their adult son Scott; his wife, Kathy; their son, Timothy; and his wife, Danielle; as well as their kids (Scott and Kathy’s grandchildren), Zander and Maverick – were all on hand to see the “Wall of Heroes” for the first time.
“It was a good night for the Jackson family. We wanted to be surprised and it was bigger and better than we ever expected,” Scott Jackson said. “Robbie (Ken Robinson) did such a fantastic job not only with this ceremony but this whole thing. I know he was bulldogging and bird-dogging until the end. We know it wasn’t easy.”
Jackson said he and his family are appreciative of everyone who helped make the “Wall of Heroes” a reality, noting the American Legion Baseball Committee, the City of Columbus Board of Park Commissioners and the City of Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.
Jackson said his late father would have been extremely proud of the memorial because it represents the values his dad instilled in him, his players and his students. But, more importantly, it sends a great message to area youth.
“It will be used to impress on our youth today the importance of service and commitment to your country and sends a positive message to all Americans to be used in their everyday lives,” Jackson said. “I think it’s a great message to send. It was great to see so many veterans and people on hand. The whole thing was incredibly well done.”
American pride was on full display during the ceremony, which opened up with the American Legion Hartman Post 84 Chorus wowing those in attendance with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“They always do an excellent job,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he had prepared his speech and was ready to go prior to the start of the ceremony, though acknowledged he couldn’t help but get a little emotional when it was his time to address everybody.
“I am relieved it’s finally done because it turned out to be a bigger project than I realized,” Robinson said. “I broke down a bit because it was so meaningful. I know what it means to our veterans and to the Jackson family. I’m so happy it came to fruition.”
Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley was also in attendance to show his respect to the Jackson family and members of the military, noting that he never misses an opportunity to recognize veterans for serving our country.
“It is always a great thing to pay tribute to an individual like Bill Jackson, who dedicated a good part of his life being involved with Columbus baseball and Columbus kids,” Bulkley said. “And in doing so, also pay tribute to our veterans, who can never be said ‘thank you’ enough.”
City Parks and Recreation Director Betsy Eckhardt, who was also in attendance for the unveiling, said the memorial is a wonderful addition to Columbus.
“We are excited to see the finished project and it is a great way to honor those in our community who have served their country,” Eckhardt said. “This was a great effort from the Columbus Legion and we are so thankful for the work they have made to bring some beauty to this spot in the baseball complex.”
Getting the project to the finish line required a ton of work, but Robinson stressed it was all worth it.
“I think everyone was pretty impressed with it,” he said. “It’s really neat we were able to do this. We recognize Coach Jackson, but also recognize our veterans and instill in our youth the importance of and the reason why they even have the ability to play Legion baseball. It’s because of all our veterans.”