Vanity tags to benefit vet program

When Alabama residents opt to personalize their “God Bless America” license plate at the DMV, all proceeds from the sale will benefit a veteran remembrance program at American Village.

The Alabama Veterans Living Legacy Program was created to remember, respect, thank and honor U.S. veterans, living and dead, and active members of the Armed Forces, said Tom Walker, American Village executive director.

“I think everyone associated with American Village takes very seriously the need to honor our veterans and the cause of liberty they served,” Walker said. “We’re trying to build an appreciation in all citizens that freedom is not free, and it’s come only by the service and sacrifice of our veterans.”

Proceeds from the personalized plates will help American Village fully realize the program’s mission, Walker said. The program includes plans to build a National Veterans Shrine, where individual and collective names, biographical sketches, stories and photographs will be on display.

Other plans include a Freedom Trail and a Memorial Carillon and Amphitheatre. Expected completion of the program is slated for late 2011 or early 2012.

Walker said there are more than 400,000 living veterans in Alabama, and he hopes these veterans will share their stories. American Village plans to launch a campaign to encourage communities to jump start the storytelling process.

“We want to get the word out at schools, churches and community organizations,” Walker said. “We hope the community takes this on as a cause.”

The official unveil of the program is expected to coincide with the opening of the new National Veterans Cemetery adjoining American Village. A groundbreaking ceremony for the cemetery was held in July.

Cemetery Director Quincy Whitehead said construction has been delayed until a contractor is secured. Currently, Whitehead is hiring staff and setting up office space. She expects the first burials to take place early next year.

Whitehead has received an influx of calls about reserving cemetery plots since the groundbreaking ceremony. She said cemetery plots can only be reserved at the time of a veteran’s death.