LAWRENCE - Mariano Torres said he wants his grandchildren to be able to visit Veterans Memorial Stadium long after he dies and know that he was a proud U.S. Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War.
Dan Reed, another Vietnam War veteran, said he prefers to see his late father-in-law, Joseph Gilbert - a U.S. Army sergeant - honored at the stadium for his brave service during World War II.
The two Lawrencians are among dozens of area veterans or relatives of local people who served in the armed forces who are motivated to buy a brick for themselves or a loved one so they can become part of the Veterans Walk of Remembrance.
"I want my name down there," said Torres, 64, pointing at the early stages of the personalized walkway under construction at the stadium, which underwent an $8 million renovation that was completed earlier this year.
"There aren't too many Spanish Vietnam veterans in the city. But I want my grandson and granddaughter to come over to see my name when I die so they know I was one of them," said Torres, a native of Puerto Rico who came to the city 20 years ago.
Reed, 58, has worked 32 years for the city's Department of Public Works, and he still proudly wears his Vietnam Veterans cap and camouflage jacket, which he had on when he showed up to look at the bricks Friday.
"I think it's beautiful, and I want to buy one to show respect for my father-in-law, who fought in Africa and Germany," he said, adding that the brick will also be a gift for his wife, Maureen.
Mayor Michael Sullivan said the city plans to install 3,200 blank bricks before year's end.
"This is the latest feature of a stadium we want to be a special memorial for all Lawrence area veterans, particularly as a tribute for the veterans who are still living," Sullivan said.
Veterans and their families have already placed more than 50 orders for bricks that have not yet been installed.
The mayor's chief of staff Myles Burke said he thinks a brick would be a unique but worthwhile holiday gift for somebody who is having trouble shopping for a relative who happens to be a veteran.
"This is something really special and almost a gift of immortality that would make a nice present you can give to your dad, your uncle, your grandfather or even children who have served their country," he said.
Burke already has a brick in place in memory of his late father - John Burke, who served two terms as register of probate for Essex County.
Burke's father died five years ago at age 85. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.
The walkway tribute conceived by the mayor's chief of staff will give patriotic families from around the valley - not just in Lawrence - a chance to honor such men and women before they die. Burke said he plans to buy six more bricks as gifts for living family members who served their country.
"Why do you have to die to get recognized? That was a question which has bothered me and a main reason why this walkway was created," Burke said. "There's a lot of guys that gave great service without paying the ultimate sacrifice. I thought it would be nice to honor deserving servicemen and women while they are still alive. Too many service people are honored after they die."
Some city officials involved with the $8 million stadium renovation kicked around the idea of selling stadium seats as a way to honor ordinary veterans and help finance a living memorial.
But Mayor Sullivan and others preferred Burke's idea. The city will soon be advertising for bids to install the walkway - minus the inscriptions.
Sale of personalized bricks will help finance and maintain the walkway, which has virtually unlimited space for growth.
Officials estimate the initial installation will cost $60,000 to $75,000 to build the first section of the walkway, which will lead from the entrance to the wall of honor, which will hold the names of all Lawrencians who were killed in action or died of war wounds in every conflict dating back to the Civil War.
One of the first to go on both the walkway and the wall of honor will be Army Reserve Sgt. Pierre Raymond, 28, the city's first soldier to die from wounds received in the ongoing Iraq conflict. He was honored with the first brick when the 80-year-old stadium off Route 114 was rededicated last June.
Raymond died Sept. 20, 2005, in Germany from severe chest and neck injuries received Sept. 15 when he was hit by flying shrapnel in his sleeping quarters near Ramadi, Iraq.
His name will also go up on the wall of honor when that is installed. It will be located under the stadium arch, beneath an imprint of the American flag. The city will pay for that project. Names will be grouped by conflict.
"We have a lot of Greater Lawrence families who lived in the city at one time, or worked in the mills of Lawrence or have some connection to the stadium because they played in it or attended an event there or had some fond memory," Burke said.
One of the bricks pays tribute to a living Lawrencian - 91-year-old Richard McGovern, a captain in the U.S. Army who later served his hometown city as a doctor for many years.
McGovern is a World War II veteran who wasn't able to be part of the war right away because of his medical duties. Initially, he was appointed to the Army medical corps as a first lieutenant.
He served two years active duty and five-and-a-half years in the reserve.
For many veterans like McGovern who survived the war, the sacrifices for several years of service to their country were still great.
"In times of peace and in times of war, the military often takes the servicemen and women away from their families and away from their homes," said former Lawrence School Committee member Amy McGovern, the doctor's daughter.
"That's why it's important to have a physical space like the walk of honor where everyone can reflect on the sacrifices made," she said.
"Choosing to set the site at a place which showcases celebrations and other events, such as athletic activities, grants the added opportunity to present part of the community's background to those visiting from neighboring communities," she said.
Amy McGovern said she intended to buy a brick for her father. But the city honored him before she could place the order. She said her Aunt Lorraine bought a brick for her Uncle Albert Gervais, who served as a private first class for the U.S. Army during the Korean War. The couple lives in Lawrence.
How to put a brick in the veterans walkway
Lawrence city officials are offering area families of veterans - living and deceased - a chance to have them honored by having their names inscribed on the Walk of Remembrance at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Here's how to order:
For details or to receive a copy of the order form: Call 978-794-5846 or write the City of Lawrence Veterans Services office at 200 Common St., Lawrence, MA 01841. Orders may also be made online, drawing an application from the city's Web site.
Make check payable to: City of Lawrence Veterans Memorial Stadium Fund.
Inscription: Name of veteran, rank and branch of service.
Eligibility: Any veteran from any community, living or dead, who has been honorably discharged from one of the branches of the Armed Forces. It would be helpful to include a copy of the discharge papers with the application.
Fee for tribute: Will go into a revolving fund to pay for expansion and maintenance of the walkway. A portion of the proceeds will also help pay for the creation of a wall of honor for all Lawrencians who lost their lives while serving their nation.
Order includes: A personalized brick, an 8-by-10-inch photograph of Veterans Memorial Stadium and a certificate signed by the mayor authenticating the gift.