Wednesday, November 01, 2017

TOP STORY >> Gold Star monument in Beebe

Leader staff writer

Beebe held a groundbreaking Saturday for the state’s first Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at the Veterans Park Memorial, to be dedicated on Feb. 23.

Retired Marine Hershel “Woody” Williams, 93, of West Virginia, the last living Medal of Honor recipient at the Battle of Iwo Jima during the Second World War, attended the ceremony.

The goal of the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation is to place a Gold Star monument in every state and every city. So far there are 18 monuments dedicated and 45 projects in progress in 34 states, including a memorial planned on the State Capitol grounds.

Gold Star Families have a family member who died while serving in the military during a war.

“Gold Star Families continue to endure the loss of their loved ones — to make sure they are not forgotten. The memorial will be a place to honor and remember the fallen and to say thanks to the families for their sacrifice,” City Clerk/Treasurer Carol Westergren, a past American Legion Auxiliary Department of Arkansas president, said at the ceremony.

“We can hope and pray they find comfort,” Mayor Mike Robertson said.

The $44,000 black granite monument will be placed at Dewitt Henry Drive and ASU Boulevard. It is paid for with donations. The city of Beebe pledged $10,000 to meet the funding goal during a monument fundraiser dinner held on Friday.

The monument has two sides. One reads “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Mothers, Fathers, and Relatives who have sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.” The other side has four panels telling the story of “Homeland, Family, Patriot and Sacrifice.” The scenes on each panel reflect each community’s Gold Star Families and their fallen heroes.

At the center of the monument is a cutout representing the loved one who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.

“One of the expressions I often receive is when the memorial monument is completed and they gaze upon it for the first time, many of them say – ‘Now I know my relative will not be forgotten’. That is important,” Williams said.

Gold Star Families attending the groundbreaking were Army Sgt. Roy E. Bright, Army Staff Sgt. Paul F. Brooks, Army Corporal Loren M. Buffalo, Air Force Staff Sgt. James P. Cook Jr., Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Patrick W. Kordsmeier, Army Private First Class Robert E. Mitchell, Army Specialist Matthew K. Reece, Army Sgt. Joseph A. Richardson, Army Sgt. Jason M. Swindle, Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel R. Wassom II and Marine Corporal Kyle W. Wilks.

Beebe’s Gold Star Monument project is led by retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Bubba Beason, Army veteran Jeff Marshall and his wife, Chelsey, a Gold Star widow who lost her husband, Jeff Swindle, in 2012 during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and former Beebe VFW Post 7769 commander Ken Adams.

Beason said the monument is important to him as he wears a watch worn by Michael Bridges, who was killed in 2006 by a sniper in Iraq.

“His mother gave it to me and it changed my life letting me know what a Gold Star Mother is. I’m thankful for where I stand today, the community I live in, family and friends. I was born into freedom that a lot of people do not understand until it is removed from them,” Beason said.

He said the monument “is about the men and women who did not come back the right way to the pomp and circumstances of the U.S. flag-but they came under the U.S. flag. It is families left behind, dealing with the pain, every day. This monument is for them, so we can tell the families we will not forget. It is our duty, as a nation to never forget.”

“We are grieving, but it is nice to know we are not forgotten and their lives are remembered,” said Pam Wassom, mother of the late Daniel Wassom, who died shielding his daughter in the 2014 Vilonia tornado.

Also attending the ceremony were Little Rock Air Force Base honor guard posting the colors, Marines at LRAFB for the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training, Arkansas Patriot Guard Riders, Beebe City Council members, state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot), and members of Beebe American Legion Post 91, Cabot Post 71, North Little Rock Post 74 and Beebe Veterans of Foreign War Post 7769.