DENTON, TX, USA
SPC, TROOP K, 3D SQUADRON, 3D ACR, (TF BAGHDAD), FORT CARSON, CO
BAGHDAD, IRAQ 07/24/2005
The city parks board voted unanimously Monday to name a park after the only Denton resident killed in the Iraq war, reversing an earlier decision that had angered and perplexed some veterans’ advocates.
Eleven-year-old Kyla Wallace, niece of Army Specialist Ernest W. Dallas Jr., speaks about her uncle at the Denton parks board meeting Monday with support from Manuel Sauseda, Dallas’ stepfather, and other relatives at Denton Civic Center. The board reversed an earlier decision by voting unanimously to name a park after Dallas, who was killed in the Iraq war.
The proposal now heads to the City Council, where it isn’t expected to face opposition.
The vote to honor Dallas, who died near Baghdad in 2005 at age 21, brought a standing ovation from supporters who packed a room inside the Denton Civic Center for a chance to address the board.
“I’m very happy,” said Manuel Sauseda, Dallas’ stepfather. “I’m overwhelmed.”
Monty Slough, a Vietnam War veteran who submitted the park naming request, called the decision a good start.
“The boy deserves to be remembered,” said Slough, the man behind the traveling Denton County Fallen Soldiers Memorial, which includes the names of 16 service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I think it [the park] will be a new beginning for the veteran community of Denton.”
Under the board’s recommendation, the park property at 6100 Sun Ray Drive would be named Ernie Dallas Jr. Veterans Memorial Park. It would honor not only Dallas but also any other veteran who serves the city, said Derrick Murray, the board’s vice chairman.
The more-inclusive name seemed to resolve fears among some board members that naming a park after Dallas might offend other veterans’ families or set a precedent for future war casualties.
Board members voted March 1 to deny the request to name a park after Dallas, saying they wanted the city to explore other ways to honor the fallen soldier. City leaders called Monday’s meeting after realizing they had failed to gather public input prior to the March 1 vote, as required by city code.
Several board members apologized to those who saw their first vote as a sign of disrespect. The intent was always to honor Dallas in some way, said Mike Simmons, who led a three-member subcommittee of the board that studied the naming request.
Family members recalled Ernie Dallas as a devoted son and uncle who loved baseball and dreamed of becoming a Denton police officer.
“When he was around, I was always standing right by his side, and I didn’t want to lose him,” said niece Kyla Wallace, 11, through tears. “He was always protecting me.”
Representatives of several local veterans’ organizations also spoke in favor of the naming request, often breaking into tears while discussing the soldier’s sacrifice.
“Naming this memorial park after comrade Dallas is a small price to pay compared with the price he paid, and his family,” said Fred Wells, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2205 in Denton.
Dennis Boots, a Vietnam veteran, was captain of the honor guard that brought Dallas’ casket back to Denton from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. He said a veterans’ park is long overdue and that naming a park after Dallas would be a “giant step” toward recognizing veterans’ service.