Fallen servicemembers who have made the ultimate sacrifice and their Gold Star family members now have a new memorial dedicated to them at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
A ceremony involving military leaders, local and regional officials and dozens of Gold Star family members was held the morning of Oct. 16 in the museum’s Memorial Park.
The impetus for the memorial has been the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, which sponsored the installation with the support of other organizations like the Marine Corps League, Young Marines, Navy League and Gold Star families as well as private individuals. A Gold Star family member is any father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter or relative who has lost a loved one in service to the nation.
Williams, 95, is the last surviving Marine who was awarded a Medal of Honor during World War II. His foundation, established in 2012, has been behind dozens of memorials honoring Gold Star families’ sacrifice and what they’ve endured with the loss of their loved one. The memorial at Wright-Patterson AFB is the foundation’s 50th, with dozens more under way or being planned.
“It is entirely fitting that this memorial has been placed on an Air Force base and entirely fitting that it be placed right next to this hall of heritage here at the museum,” said Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry, commander, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
The general commended Gold Star families for their forbearance in the face of loss, striking resilience and staying true to the values and dedication of their lost family member.
“I believe it lifts up the entire service and our country,” McMurry said. “It is humbling and amazing to see. It is a recommitment to what we are about.”
Gold Star father Jim Groves thanked Williams and his foundation for his vision that created the monument. Groves and his wife, Leslie, helped coordinate the project.
“This monument is for all branches of service; it is for all wars. It’s for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” Groves said.
Honoring Gold Star families is personal to Williams.
Before joining the Marine Corps, he delivered death notices to families during WWII. In the Battle of Iwo Jima, Williams was said to have displayed “valiant devotion to duty” and service above self as he “enabled his company to reach its objective.” His actions, commitment to his fellow service members and heroism were recognized on Oct. 5, 1945, when he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman.
After his 20 years of service in the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserves, he worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for 33 years.
“We honor you because you had the foresight, the love and the dedication and the realization that we must not, in this country, forget that we are here because others made it possible,” Williams remarked to the Gold Star families present.
The black granite monument will stand as a place they can come to remember, he said, and touch.
“It is part of that individual; it represents them. … These memorials are not just for today – they are for the past; they are for the present because we are still having those sacrifices, but they are for the future,” Williams said. “They will continue as an honor and a tribute to those who make that final sacrifice.”
The monument features two sides. One bears the words: “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who have sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.”
The other side’s four panels are marked “Homeland, Family, Patriot and Sacrifice” with a scene on each panel a reflection of the community’s Gold Star families and their fallen service member.
At the center is a cutout that represents the loved one who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
After the monument was unveiled, it was formally accepted by Krista Strider, NMUSAF deputy director and senior curator.
“By placing this memorial at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, we will forever remember that sacrifice and the ultimate price that was paid by those service members and by their family members,” she said. “Know that we are honored to be the keepers of your memorial to recognize and pay tribute to all those who have lost a loved one in service to our country.”
The ceremony concluded with Gold Star family members placing yellow roses around the base of the monument and representatives of Veterans of Foreign Wars placing a wreath before it.