Memorial Monument Groundbreaking For Gold Star Families at Wheeling’s Veteran’s Memorial Amphitheater
Monument to be placed at Wheeling’s Veteran’s Memorial Amphitheater
WHEELING — A monument that will serve as a tribute to the families and relatives who sacrificed a loved one for our freedom came a step closer to becoming a reality at Wheeling’s Veteran’s Memorial Amphitheater as an official groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday afternoon with dozens in attendance.
95-year-old Hershel “Woody” Williams, the sole surviving Medal of Honor recipient of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima, and a native of West Virginia, delivered a powerful message about the importance of erecting a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument to remember our fallen heroes and their families.
“Members of Gold Star Families, it’s because of you that we are here. We wouldn’t be here had you not made the sacrifice of a loved one, and we have the opportunity of remembering and recognizing,” Williams said. He said Gold Star Monuments will also continue to serve as a tribute so that Gold Star Families loved ones will not be forgotten.
“These memorials will be in place for many many years. There will be thousands and thousands of individuals over the time to come that will visit these memorials and perhaps become aware that they have all the privileges that they have — and realize perhaps for the very first time … that freedom is certainly not free,” Williams explained. “This really is a beginning for this community. It is making history because it’s never had something like this before. … As it has been said by many of those who gave a son, or father, husband or a brother, a daughter, any relative, ‘they sacrificed their life and it must not be forgotten,'” Williams added.
Williams also thanked John Nanny, chairman of the Hershel “Woody” Williams Scholarship Foundation, for all of his efforts involved with making the monument become a reality in the local community. He said the completion of Gold Star Monuments in Wheeling and Parkersburg this year will bring total number to seven in West Virginia.
Nanny, who continues to be the driving force behind the fundraising efforts for the project, said they have nearly reached the $65,000 goal set to have the monument constructed. He said it because of the generosity of so many donors including: local organizations, government entities, churches and individuals, that the monument will be erected. He said they are currently only $310 short of their total goal in fundraising.
Nanny said when Williams asked him and Wheeling Mayor Glen Elliott at last year’s Italian Festival if they would head up the campaign to make a Gold Star monument a reality in Wheeling, Nanny said they were both thrilled to have the opportunity to work on such a meaningful project with Williams.
Nanny said it was nearly a decade ago when Williams realized that when a loved one made the ultimate sacrifice in the military — the loss was to the entire family — so he started the memorial project about nine years ago as a way to acknowledge and thank Gold Star families for their enduring sacrifice while insuring their fallen heroes never be forgotten.
The monument, which will be just over 7 feet high and 13 feet long will consist of four black granite panels, will be the same as every other monument that has been constructed around the country, with the same design and inscriptions, according to Nanny. It is expectred to be completed sometime later this year.
One side will bear 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 will tell the story about homeland, family, patriotism and sacrifice. The center of the monument will feature the most distinct feature of the monument — a cut out which represents the loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.
Wheeling Mayor Elliott, who welcomed the crowd for turning out “for a special day” in the city, said when Williams challenged him and Nanny last year to make a Gold Star Monument a reality, it was a challenge they both took very seriously.
“I can’t say enough about the efforts that John Nanny has made in the last 10 or 11 months to raise funds for this project … he has been a man on a mission fundraising for this,” Elliott said. “I really can’t thank him enough, because without his efforts this project may not have happened,” he added. Initially, city officials thought the monument might be constructed at the north end of the Veteran’s Memorial Amphitheater; however, Elliott said they continue to discuss other locations “connected to” Veteran’s Memorial Amphitheater as possible options for the monument.
Following the ceremony, Gold Star Family member, Fred Hunter of Wheeling, who lost his son, Sgt. Matthew David Hunter (who lost his life while serving his country in Iraq in 2006) said the monument “means everything.” Hunter, who is a Vietnam veteran himself, said he was honored to meet Williams, who approached him prior to the ceremony to talk for a few minutes.
Mary Jo Guidi, regional coordinator for Sen. Joe Manchin office, was also in attendance to deliver a greeting and a message from Sen. Manchin to the Gold Star families and veterans in attendance.
The Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, a non-profit charitable foundation that was established in 2010, is the entity undertaking the “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument” projects being constructed throughout the United States. As of last month, more than 42 Gold Star monuments have already been completed and dedicated in various locations across the country, with another 45 monuments currently in progress with 39 states represented.
The foundation mission is the vision of Williams. The mission is to honor Gold Star families by building Gold Star monuments in all 50 states, offering scholarships to Gold Star children, sponsoring outreach programs and events, and educating communities about Gold Star families and the sacrifice they have endured. To date, about 42 Gold Star Monuments have been erected across the country. The monument was designed by Williams, and Architect Kenton Blackwood.
In addition to Nanny, the local project committee includes: Vernon Anderson, VFW Post 4442, John Powell, American Legion Post 1, Demetrius Lathon, American Legion Post 89, Karen Schubert Garvin, Gold Star Sister, Harry “David” Schoenian, Military Order of Purple Heart, and Mayor Elliott.