Vietnam Veterans Memorial Parkway dedication to be Saturday

WARNER ROBINS — Tom McClendon, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said he can’t put into words what it means that a city road will be named for those who died in the Vietnam War.

McClendon tirelessly worked with a group of other Vietnam War veterans in an effort to get a road that commemorates those killed in the war.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Parkway is the two-mile frontage road that runs from Watson Boulevard to Russell Parkway along Interstate 75. After nearly a year of construction, the road is finally complete and will officially open to the public Saturday after a dedication ceremony. The ceremony will include a flyover by Black Hawk helicopters and the reading of the names of the 73 people who died in the war from Warner Robins, Perry, Fort Valley and Macon.

“This road represents the ones that gave their life, not those that are living,” said McClendon, who is looking forward to the attendance of the families of the 73 servicemen. “It’s about the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Parkway will not only honor those who served and died for the country, but city officials say it’s expected to lead to economic development near the interstate.

The road has been in the works for a long time. Officials began acquiring the right of way for the project in 1996.

Warner Robins Public Works Director Joe Musselwhite said the road cost nearly $2 million to build. The Georgia Department of Transportation contributed $600,000 to the project while Warner Robins set aside $1 million. Peach County contributed $200,000.

“It’s a beautiful road,” Musselwhite said of the three-lane corridor.

For Mayor Donald Walker, the road’s completion opens the door to opportunity. He envisions the road as a bustling corridor for commercial, retail and industrial development.

“This is a real step forward and a monkey off my back,” Walker said.

The mayor said the area has already generated the interest of at least one hotel chain and a convenience store, though he would not identify the interested companies. In addition, he said Groome Transportation plans to relocate its Warner Robins facility from the Watson Central Shopping Center to the new corridor.

Walker said much of the commercial interest in the road is tied to the 55,000 automobiles that pass through Warner Robins on the interstate every day.

“It’s a lot of people stopping and spending money, and it means jobs, too,” Walker said.

The road also will assist with the city’s tourism industry.

Walker said plans call for a retired F-15 fighter jet from the Georgia Air National Guard to be placed near the road. A welcome center also is in the works that will focus on aviation and guide visitors to the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base. Walker said the road’s name helps as well.

“By naming it Vietnam Veterans Memorial Parkway, I think people will stop there to see what we have,” Walker said.

To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.