Man fights to save veterans wall in Greenville

GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) - If you've ever been to Greenville County Square, hopefully you've seen the black granite wall that bears the names of thousands of our veterans.

What you may not know is that the wall -- the county's most visible reminder of heroic sacrifice -- only exists because one man made it happen. And that same man now needs the community's help to keep the wall intact.

The wall itself -- a black granite barrier that frames Greenville's County Square -- is almost imposing. 

On the wall are more than 6,000 names carved into the veteran's memorial and every letter appears to be a permanent legacy.

George Blevins is the hand that wrote every word

"There's interesting stories here I promise," Blevins said. "It's all different lives."

And Blevins would know, as he's likely shaken the hands of most of the men and women whose names appear on the wall.  

As he walked along the black granite expanse, one man flagged him down.  A veteran -- honorably discharged -- wanted to know how his father's name could be added.

"You're a veteran and you deserve to be on it. Your family can look at that for years," Blevins told him.

Blevins is a 25-year veteran of the Air Force.  

Back in 1996, he was halfway through his now 30 year career in Veteran's Affairs. He had an office in a far corner of County Square and worried that men and women like him, who served their country, weren't getting appropriate recognition from the county.

"I kept saying there's nothing in Greenville County, if you think about it, and nothing says 'thank you, veterans,'" Blevins said.

So it was Blevins who picked up a pencil, sketched out a few marble columns and carved out space in his own garage to build the first model of the Greenville County Veterans Memorial -- the model he hoped would turn his idea into a financial reality. 

 "Boy during the beginning stages, you just have to try to go to sleep at night," he said. "When you're trying to purchase a monument, when you're a nobody, how would you purchase a monument?" 

The purchase was a problem because the money didn't exist. The county offered a small patch of property but not the cash to build.  

The American Legion offered $10,000, but that wasn't nearly enough.  

Blevins' big breakthrough was honoring veterans by asking them to honor themselves, by asking them to financially buy in.  

Each name on the wall started at $35, with the only requirement being that the name belonged to a Greenville County veteran.  

And the response was enormous.

Emma Cummings and her family were among the first to sign up.  

As she looked through a photo album with pictures of her brothers-in-law, Cummings stopped on pictures of the men posing in front of the finished wall.

"David Cummings, Furman Cummings and John Frank Cummings," she said.  "It's just one way to honor them, and these guys loved it."    

John Cummings was in the Navy during World War II.  His brothers both served in the Air Force.  It is, as Cummings described it, "The family business."

"The youngest of these guys, he was in service, he has three grandchildren in service right now and they're in their early 20s."

Over the years, the wall kept growing as more families honored their bonds of service.  

The wall has been a focal point for more than 20 years of Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies.

It got so popular, Blevins hoped to gather enough veteran names to line both sides of the main driveway into Coutny Square and wanted to call it "Veteran's Boulevard."

But now, we know that will never happen as County Square will be demolished.  And the wall has to go.

Earlier this year, the county council voted to sell the property to a private developer for a billion dollar project.

"If you destroy those names that people put up to honor those veterans, I think that would be a very big, bad situation for someone," Blevins said.

There is a plan, though, for a new veteran's park in the city of Greenville. The current plan would put the veterans memorial on property near the old Public Works facility.

But they'll need good ideas and millions of dollars to preserve the investment all those thousands of veterans made in the wall.

And Blevins will be among those making sure that happens.


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