When WWII Marine Corps veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams came to speak at the Gold Star Mothers luncheon this past April, he was unaware that the Owensboro community would be breaking ground on its own Gold Star Families Memorial Monument just one year later.
After a dedicated effort to raise funds for the monument while still in office, Mayor Tom Watson said they are “full speed ahead” on both the construction and the dedication.
“We have a very valuable veteran population in our community,” Watson said. “It’s important that we continually make our community aware of their sacrifice.”
The groundbreaking for the monument, which will be placed adjacent to the Charles E. Shelton Memorial in downtown Owensboro, is scheduled for April 2020 with the dedication set for Aug. 25.
Aug. 25 is a date that holds a lot of significance for Gold Star parents Tommy and Cathy Mullins as it is the date their 21-year-old son Brandon was killed in action in the Kandahar province in 2011 while serving in the U.S. Army.
Cathy said she has been working to establish a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Owensboro since meeting Williams five years ago at an Honor and Remember banquet in Virginia Beach.
“It is incredibly special to dedicate it on Brandon’s anniversary date,” said Cathy, who is also president of the Kentucky chapter of Gold Star Mothers. “When Brandon was killed, it impacted everyone in our community.”
According to Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain, in addition to the Mullins family, there are five other Gold Star families that they serve whose children (all sons) died while on active duty, with one listed as missing in action (MIA).
Williams is scheduled to be one of several guests of honor at the Aug. 25 ceremony next year. Williams dedicated his life to service in the Marine Corps and then went on to work for the Veterans Administration. But it wasn’t until he was asked to deliver telegrams to Gold Star families informing them of the death of their loved ones during World War II that he truly understood the sacrifices made by the entire military family.
These sacrifices inspired Williams to start his foundation and to design the first Gold Star Families Memorial Monument that was erected in West Virginia. Each two-sided monument weighs approximately 14,000 pounds and is made up of five large pieces of black granite, including the base.
According to the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation website, to date, Williams and his foundation are responsible for establishing 59 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with more than 66 additional monuments underway in 45 states.
Former U.S. Marine and foundation member Patrick O’Leary often travels with Williams and made the trip to Owensboro with him in April.
“He realized that the whole family is impacted when they lose a son or daughter, a niece or nephew, a brother or sister,” O’Leary said. “He believes the whole family is impacted, so we should honor the whole family. And that is what the monument is all about.”
Each side of the monument pays tribute to these families with one side bearing the words, “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.” The other side features four panels that are meant to tell the story of each community’s Gold Star families and their fallen heroes. The focal point of the monument is a silhouette meant to represent “the loved one who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.”
“I love the imagery of the silhouette representing all those lost and no names on the monument to represent all who sacrificed,” Mullins said. “This is not just for us, but all those who have died in service.”