"All American Veterans"

Walking bridge over Coosawattee River honors veterans.

By Whitney Crouch: Times-Courier, Ellijay, Georgia

Sandy Lyons will be the first to admit he has dedicated much of his time, energy and resources into making Ellijay’s Veterans Memorial Bridge a reality.“I’ve put my whole heart in this thing,” he told theTimes-Courier one sunny,summer afternoon as he motioned toward the 10-foot wide, 147-foot long span of weathered steel over the Coosawattee River. Placed across the river two miles south of the downtown Ellijay square, the bridge is adjacent to the Lions Club Fairgrounds where the Apple Festival is held each October and can be accessed by pedestrians on the walking trail at the county’s River Park. “It’s a tribute to all veterans— from any war and any kind of service,” continued Lyons, 83, who served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1955and received a commendation for his rapid and heroic response to a B-57 crash. “I wanted to pay tribute to them because that’s the reason we have a country. Most people don’t give them the recognition they deserve …we’ve got a lot of activity that was done for us.”

Moving from dream to reality

As Lyons recalled, Gilmer resident George Winn approached him in the mid- 1990s about the need for a bridge to connect the existing river park and acreage that was being donated by Goldkist across the river corridor for an additional athletic field. “I opened my big mouth, “laughed Lyons, describing how he volunteered to spearhead the project of getting a bridge. After extensive fundraising efforts, the structure was transported to Ellijay from Montana on two 75-foot trailers and installed over the river via a crane. Once the bridge was in place, Lyons began work on an adjacent memorial garden. In keeping with the idea of creating a tribute to veterans, the area features hundreds of marble markers bearing the names of men and women who served in the armed forces at various periods in American history, beginning with the Revolutionary War and continuing to modern-day conflicts. Members of the community have donated many of these stones in memory and honor of their ancestors and loved ones, many of whom are listed as having received Purple Hearts or Bronze Stars. Brick pavers also commemorate the names of many of the people, businesses and civic organizations that helped make the memorial project a reality. There is even a section of the garden dedicated to the memory of area K9 and search and rescue animals.

History carved in stone

Sandy Lyons, visionary for Ellijay’s Veterans Memorial Bridge, points out some of America’s founding documents, which are carved in stone and provide visitors to the bridge with an educational experience by including marble slabs engraved with pieces of American history along the pathway leading to the bridge. “We’ve got such rich history here. People need to look at it and study it ... I hope they have an education of what our country is about and what’s been given for them,“ Lyons stated before pointing out his favorite of the engravings, which bears the text of the Ten Commandments. Some of the other items of historical interest, which have been preserved on marble slabs, include the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, a list of the 10 bloodiest battles of the Civil War and their casualty counts and information about the POW and MI flags, Navajo Code talkers and Purple Heart recipients. Quotes from a variety of Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington are also included, as well as the text of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death“ speech.

Visiting the bridge

Lyons invites visitors tithe Apple Festival to walk out the back gates of the event in order to visit the bridge, honor the veterans whose names can be found in the garden and read the memorial engravings. “I want them to come read it. I think we have some real history here that people need to know about,” he stated. To learn more about Lyons‘ efforts to honor veterans, visit the website gilmercountyveterans.us. Having paid for many of the engravings out of his own pocket, Lyons sells commemorative-shirts, hats and DVDs to help recoup some of the large costs associated with the Memorial Bridge and garden project

When asked how he has developed the vision for the memorial, Lyons explained how in the mornings after his wife goes to work, he sits on his back deck with a pot of coffee and meditates. “God places thoughts (in my mind), and then I go get them done,” he said, sharing that the project continues to unfold. He went on to describe how there have been many obstacles to the bridge project, but as he prayed about each of them, “They all got taken care of.”

Photo by Whitney Crouch

"Under construction."


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All rights reserved. Gilmer County Veterans
96 Mountain Springs Circle
Ellijay, Georgia 30536

Phone 706.635.1931

Cell 706.273.0286