The community of Langston gathered Thursday to honor veterans, especially local veterans of color at the memorial garden created by one of their own.
Langston native Stewart A. Williams, a U.S. Army veteran, and his wife Maeoma, created the Wm Conrad Veterans Memorial Garden in Langston as a labor of love, using their own funds.
“I retired in ‘07 and I was kind of looking for something to do. What I was seeing was we were losing a lot of veterans my age or older, nobody ever knew who these people were, they were just in and out of life, you know? What I thought I might do is try to take this community and recognize, especially our local veterans, but we want to recognize all veterans,” he told the News Press in 2019. “We wanted to say something, because veterans ain’t going to say much about themselves, we wanted to say something with this garden to our community. We wanted to show our community what a veteran is and the courtesy and respect that we should extend to our veterans.”
Williams said he plans to have the garden completed by October 2022, with raised circular stone planting beds representing each branch of the service, including Space Force, as well as beds for POWs and for peace.
Military service is a family affair for Williams and his brothers. Older brother Stacy, the only one who still lives in Langston, attended the ceremony Thursday.
At one point, five of the Williams brothers were serving in different branches of the military at the same time, he said. One would make a career, serving 30 years and two others would serve 20.
Stacy said being in the garden brings back memories.
“Right on this corner, it used to be a house here. This is where we grew up,” he said. “So Stewart, he chose in this place. It reminds us of home, we’re back home again.”
Everett E. Mack Sr., pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, which is located just up the road and serves as an alternate location for the ceremony if weather doesn’t cooperate, said his church is glad for their partnership and grateful for the Williams’ efforts.
“This is wonderful. It has been a game-changer for this town and for Stewart and Mae to choose to put it here, because they could have put it somewhere else, but they chose to put it here and it has been a true blessing to the town,” Mack said. “… we’ve been blessed to be able to share it with them. This grows each year they do this, it gets bigger and bigger and we’re thankful, we’re grateful for it.”
Sheila Stevenson, a Langston resident and former mayor of the town who served in the U.S. Army 1983-1993 in Desert Storm, said the memorial serves an important function.
“It’s just needed overall,” she said. “A lot of times veterans, the sacrifices that they’ve made, get overlooked. There are so many veterans that gave the ultimate sacrifice, but there are some who are reliving the war in their minds every day and they will never be over it.
“In honor of them, I just appreciate Miss Mae and Mr. Stewart for their vision and for bringing this together because we need a place of peace and honor where we can just come and remember. If it’s nobody but a single person who comes and sits, just reminisces on their loved ones or just reminisces on the sacrifices of all of the military persons to keep our freedom, that we don’t have bombs going off here every day like a lot of children. We are so blessed. So I’m just thankful to be a part of this.”