For Tom Witts, and other veterans of the armed forces veterans, “the night the lights went out in Georgia” occurred in late 2005, when the eternal flame on Snellville's Vietnam Veterans memorial was extinguished and the memorial was moved to the new City Hall.
For twenty years, the eternal flame had burned in tribute to the veterans who served in the Vietnam war.
“As a veteran myself, and being involved in Veteran organizations, I was well aware that the eternal flame meant more to the veterans than the city Fathers realized," said Witts, Snellville's Mayor Pro Tem. "For years, I was part of the ceremony that included placing a wreath on the monument each Memorial Day. But when the monument was moved to its current location and the flame wasn't relit that tradition ended."
In November of 2011, Witts, reflecting on the fact that the City of Snellville did not have a public celebration of Veteran’s Day, announced that he was committing himself to relighting the eternal flame. Witts thought it would be a relatively simple task, but soon found out it was anything but.
“The first obstacle was that we couldn’t get a gas line to the current location," he said. "Then we explored moving the monument but met resistance from the citizens who chose the present site.”
Not one to be deterred from fulfilling a commitment, Witts sought alternatives to his original plan with one goal in mind: keeping his promise to relight Snellville’s eternal flame. After considering a number of options, Witts settled on a new memorial, one that would celebrate the contributions of all veterans-- from those who served in the Revolutionary War to those who served in Afghanistan.
That was when former City Councilman Chad Smith, an architect and president of CAS Architecture entered the picture. Although Witts and Smith never served together on the Snellville City Council, they both had served along with former Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Bender. Bender brought the two men together and the result is the new Veteran’s Memorial Freedom Flame which will be erected on the City Hall complex on Oak Rd.
Smith stated, “I was thrilled to be asked by Tom to be part of this exciting project. This will be a monument to all those who served our country.”
The monument will include a “wall of veterans," an eternal flame, and a water fall. It will be completely funded by donations, and through the sale of tiles, (which will have veterans' names etched in them) and brickpavers (which will have personalized names or tributes etched in them).
(Editor's note: the following information was from a press release issued by the City of Snellville.)