CAPE CORAL, Fla. - Three years in the making, the Iraq War Monument was dedicated Sunday at Eco Park in Cape Coral.
It's the first monument, not memorial, that recognizes all military branches that deployed to Iraq in 1991 and between 2003-2011. It honors those who have died as well as those who have survived.
James Wells, who served with the Army in Iraq in 2010-2011, didn't know about the dedication until today. His wife surprised him, "saying we were going to go to the Veterans thing," Wells said. "And I thought, 'oh that's cool,' then I saw signs for the Iraq Monument and I didn't even know there was one."
Wells also didn't know his wife arranged for his name to be on one of the dog tags displayed on the monument.
"I feel like it's appreciated for all of our services, for all those who served in Iraq," Wells said.
Cape Coral Mayor John Sullivan was the brains behind the operation.
"It's not just about WWII, it's not just about Korean veterans, the Vietnam vets, it's about all veterans even going back to 1776 and the Minute Men. There's generations of men and they need to be recognized for the sacrifices they make," Sullivan said.
The star-shaped monument stands eight feet tall, the outer arms decorated with dog tags from those who have served. There are silver tags for survivors, gold tags for those who were killed in action and blue tags for Medal of Honor recipients.
Iraq veterans voted on the design, which was crafted by Cape Coral High School freshman Xavier Pinero.
"It's a memorial, but also a monument as well, and all of this together really represents something great, especially in the Cape Coral community because there's so many veterans and soldiers," Pinero said.
Soldiers like Wells, who hopes seeing his name on the monument will make his daughter and son proud.
"My kids can come back to it and see it as they get older," Wells said.
There will be 1,608 dog tags on the monument. When the monument is filled, another structure will be build to accommodate more.