Gold Star Family Memorial By Jim Mullen, Chairman, LCCVEB
On Friday September 11 a Gold Star Families Memorial, honoring local Gold Star families was unveiled in Lovettsville, Virginia. A Gold Star family refers to the immediate family members of a service member who died while serving in a time of conflict.
Following the town’s 911 ceremony earlier in the day in the town center, about two hundred people proceeded to visit the One Family Brewing property south of town to witness the unveiling of the nation’s 65th, and the region’s first, Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.
Attending the ceremony were representatives from the County including Board of Supervisors Chair Randall, Ashburn Representative (and fellow member of our MOAA Chapter) Mike Turner, Sheriff Mike Chapman and a number of veterans organizations members. Also present were representatives from the Marine Corps headed by BG David Morse, two Medal of Honor recipients and a number of Gold Star families. Jim Mullen and Lowell Jones representing the Loudoun County Veterans Engagement Board and our MOAA Chapter also attended the dedication.
The guest of honor was Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams. Woody was awarded the medal for action on Iwo Jima in WWII. On the day the flag was raised on Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi, his unit was bogged down in a heavily fortified area. Woody, with the aid of cover fire from only four Marines, used a flamethrower to attack enemy machine gun pillboxes. After destroying several Japanese positions, he opened a gap in the Japanese defenses, which enabled the Marines to move ahead. For his actions, Williams received the Medal of Honor on October 4, 1945, from President Truman. He was also awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded on March 6.
Hershel “Woody” Williams, now a former Marine (Chief Warrant Officer, Retired), is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient of 27 recognized from Iowa Jima conflict. He is 96 years and fast moving. Several years ago he was instrumental in setting up the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation to recognize Gold Star families by installing Gold Star Memorials across the nation, He told the audience that the sacrifices of American soldiers must never be forgotten. He mentioned that out of the more than 1,000 monuments in Washington, DC, there are none that specifically honor Gold Star families. Several years ago after speaking with a Gold star family member at a Gold Star Memorial meeting --Woody realized the need to recognize families and formed his foundation.
Several residents of the Lovettsville area had formed a committee to have such a memorial for the town, led by the by the owner of One Family Brewing, Dave Keuhner. They worked with The Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation to get the job done and arranged for the dedication of the memorial this September.
During the ceremony, Dave Keuhner, told attendees that his life was spared on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Keuhner said he had canceled his planned flight to California four weeks prior to the terrorist attacks . That flight ended up being the flight that hit the Pentagon. “This is your memorial,” Dave told the Gold Star families in attendance.
To pay for the memorial, more than $52,000 was raised through individual donations, beer sales and events throughout the last 14 months. Some costs were offset by donations from area companies including donation of rock to distribute around the Memorial, donation of concrete for the base and support from contractors for the construction.
Amongst those speaking at the event was Mike Ryan, whose father, U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. William Ryan, was shot down and killed in Vietnam at the age of 25 in 1969 when Mike was one day shy of his first birthday, he said U.S. service members have “hero blood.” “Many of you here today have that blood,” he told the Gold Star families. “Nothing can adequately prepare families for this,” he said. “That’s what this memorial is really all about, is never forgetting.”
Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. And Medal of Honor holder Clint Romesha—who fought alongside U.S. Army Spc. Stephan Mace, a former Purcellville resident who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009 and was awarded the Medal of Honor in February 2013—told the families there is no replacing their loved ones. “They wrote that blank check for the country and they paid in full,” he said. “We will always remember and we will do it together.”
Lovettsville’s Gold Star Memorial is made of black granite and features one side that reads “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.” The other side tells a story through four panels with themes of homeland, family, patriot, and sacrifice. A 30-foot flagpole displaying the American flag has also been installed.
Once unveiled, dozens of Gold Star family members came forward and placed photos of their deceased loved ones at the base of the monument, many with tears running down their cheeks while doing so.
There are now 65 Gold Star Memorials located across 48 U.S. states, with 75 more in progress. If your happen to be out for a drive, the Lovettsville memorial is open for viewing at the invitation of Dave Keuhner and would be worth the trip.
P.S Lowell and I are glad we made the trip. It was a moving experience.