SA high school pays tribute to service members with memorial

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Jose R. Davis
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
The city of San Antonio is generally known across the country as "Military City USA" for its rooted military presence and for its proud devotion to service members.

This fact is not lost to the proud south-side community of San Antonio.

South San Antonio Independent School District held a groundbreaking ceremony at South San Antonio High School for a newly designed War Heroes Memorial, Nov. 11, 2014. Numerous veterans, faculty and district leaders attended the event. The memorial is meant to commemorate native San Antonio veterans, from across the military services, who have lost their lives serving their country. 

The memorial was designed by local student, Julio Zamora, after winning a competition in which SSAISD students from various architecture and art classes submitted designs for consideration.

"I thought I wasn't going to win," said Zamora. "I was surprised. Some of my other friends had some really good ideas, but I kept mine simple and that's why I think I won."

Zamora's design borrows heavily from the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C.
While in middle school, Zamora took a field trip to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph to learn about the base's various missions and got to see the traditional architecture of the 72-year old base.

During the initial design process, Zamora was mentored and guided by his architecture teacher, Angelica Ramos. Zamora is now in Ramos' advanced architecture class, after Zamora took Introduction to Architectural Design with her last year.

"I focus on providing a well-rounded education that helps students understand the work necessary to achieve a career in architecture," said Ramos. "We spent a class period going over the design guidelines and I gave a lecture on the war memorials. The lecture gave the students a tour of several high profile memorials - some of which I have visited - and from there, the students came up with their own structures.

"The board and committee felt that the design should come from a student of South San High School, which is a close-knit community," continued Ramos. "The decision makes this memorial that much more profound, and I am glad it went and stayed that direction."

Ramos has been shaped by the military as well; Ramos' father served in the Air Force until 2010, when he retired from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

After winning the design competition, Zamora was paired with a local architect, Jorge Flores. Flores is a senior associate at Garza-Bomberger & Associates: a local architectural firm that has worked on a myriad of projects for military installations and veterans affairs hospitals in San Antonio. Designs include a new enlisted dining facility and training support center for JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, to Vicellio Hall at JBSA-Randolph, which was originally built as part of a budding medical complex on the base and later became the headquarters building for 19th Air Force in 1993.  

"The Air Force has influenced the city of San Antonio, a lot," said Flores. "Not only have active duty impacted the city, but also retirees who live here. The economy and the traditions of the city have been influenced by the military."

Zamora also said he thinks the military presence in San Antonio has been good for the city.

Flores enjoys mentoring students. With Zamora, Flores is tasked with making the initial memorial design constructible, while not losing the essence and effort put into the original design. Nevertheless, Flores mentors in such a way that keeps Zamora continually contributing to the long architectural process; Zamora has creative control throughout. 

"Julio keeps doing research for us," said Flores. "For example, he wants black granite for his memorial. Then we tell him that there are 10 to 12 different black granites, so exactly which one? So he's going to be doing a little research for which one he wants. We gave him some ideas on how to do it, so he's not doing it by himself."

For Zamora's part, the mentorship and education he's receiving is invaluable.

Working with the architects has been a great opportunity, Zamora said. They've discussed in-depth about the architectural symbols in the design, like the military significance of the rifle, boots and helmet in Zamora's model. He will meet with Flores three or more times to work on the final design, which will eventually be given to contractors for construction.

As the design is finalized, some local San Antonio veterans saw the groundbreaking ceremony on Veterans Day as recognition for their service, to which the completed memorial will be the ultimate culmination.  

"People who are going to school right now or going into the service, they can see those names on the memorial and see what they went through, for the price that is paid for freedom," said Humberto Garza, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam. "It is good that they did this memorial for people who lost their lives."

And for others, the memorial takes on a wholly personal meaning.

"This memorial to me means that we were all brothers," said Manuel Guillen, who was one of the first 3,500 Marines in the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade that landed in Vietnam on March 8, 1965. "It didn't matter what school you went to, we were all brothers; we all drank from the same cup. To me this memorial represents that: the unity that we had." 

The final design of the War Heroes Memorial is slated for completion in May 2015.