Gold Star Park honors the fallen

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By Sandi Latimer
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Sandi Latimer
Medal of Honor recipient Hershel Williams, at 94, salutes as an honor guard prepares to deliver a 21-gun salute after he participated in the dedication of the Gold Star Families Park in Grove City June 16. The park honors those families who lost a loved one in battle.

It was only fitting that Grove City’s Gold Star Families Park was dedicated on Father’s Day weekend because “Dads cry, too,” said Medal of Honor recipient Hershsel ‘Woody’ Williams in his dedicatory address.

This new park contains four black panels with a cut out of a serviceman saluting. It occupies the southeast corner of Broadway and Columbus Street, one of the busiest corners in the city.

Williams, who earned his Medal of Honor for his bravery on Iwo Jima the day the flag was raised on Mount Suribachi, has been advocating for Gold Star Families recognition in his position as veterans service representative to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In his presentation June 16, he delivered a short history of the Gold Star program that grew out of the Blue Star one.

The Blue Star program began during World War I. A family with a member fighting in the war received a flag with a blue star in the center. He unfurled the small rectangular flag.

“The program languished after the war,” he said, “but was revived again during World War II.”

When the military person was killed in action, the family received a flag with a gold star in the center. The 94-year-old Williams unfurled the flag with the gold star in the center.

“The gold star said a person was not coming home,” he said.

In the 1980s and 90s, we began to pay tribute to the Gold Star Mothers, Williams explained. But it didn’t include anyone else in the family, not even the widows and children.

“And then I heard that ‘Dads cry too,’” Williams said. “When one sacrifices his life, every member of the family is affected.”

He drew a standing ovation when we said, “We cannot, we will not, we should not forget.”

It took movements, much like was done in Grove City, to get some tribute erected.

In Grove City, police officers Chris White and John Darnell, both military veterans, spearheaded the drive to raise the money for the park that also has benches for people to sit and reflect.

The first panel depicts Homeland and has the etching on it of the Stewart-Grant home, the first home in Grove City. The second scene is Family, depicting young Americans who volunteer to serve and protect the country and give others a freedom they never know. A silhouette of a family is superimposed over a photo from the Ohio Flags of Honor.

The third panel is Patriotism. The cutout on that panel of the missing person represents the sacrifice of life for peace and freedom. The image on the panel is from the photo of the raising of the flag after the Battle of Iwo Jima. The last scene, Sacrifice, depicts the families grieving the loss of loved ones who sacrificed their lives to preserve our rights, liberties, and the American flag under which they served.

That day on Iwo Jima, Feb. 23, 1945, when American tanks encountered concrete bunkers known as pillboxes, Williams went forward with his flamethrower, covered by four riflemen, as he attempted to cut down the enemy. His citation also says he fired into a cave and wiped out a Japanese unit, then cut down bayoneted enemy soldiers coming toward him. He was awarded the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman in October 1945. Williams is the only living Marine Medal of Honor recipient.

He served 17 non-consecutive years in the military and was honorarily retired in 1969.

The non-profit Hershel Woody Williams Congressional Medal of Honor Education Foundation, Inc., established in 2010, pursues specific endeavors and goals through the vision of Medal of Honor Recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams. It provides scholarships to eligible Gold Star children and encourages, with the assistance of the American public and community leaders, establishing permanent Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments in communities with a goal of having one in each state.

The first monument was established in 2013 in Dunbar, W.Va. There are currently 36 dedicated monuments and 41 in progress in 36 states.

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