Apr 7 2023
Shirley Stirling | Jolt
Together, the Woody Williams Foundation, the Gold Star Memorial Foundation Lacey, and the community unveiled the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Lacey last Friday, March 31, at Lacey Civic Plaza, 521 Sleater-Kinney Road SE.
Inscribed in the granite, the monument reads, “A Tribute To The Gold Star Families And Relatives Who Sacrificed A Loved One For Our Freedom.” The event was attended by local Gold Star family members, local citizens, city council members, and other officials.
Blessings were given by Army Chaplain Ryan Steenburg, with an invocation and by Chief Ben Charles of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, with a land blessing.
“Our Gold Star families gave up everything for us, and today we get the opportunity to give those families a permanent location to honor their fallen heroes and keep their memories alive,” said Lacey City Councilman Michael Steadman. Steadman has served as the vice president of the Gold Star Memorial Foundation Lacey through most of the project’s duration and has served as president for the last 3-4 months. Michael Jameson served as president from the beginning of the project until recently.
“Lacey is a military community and deserves a dedicated place for family members to gather, share stories, and remember their loved ones,” Steadman commented. “For generations to come, this will be a place for residents across Thurston County and the state to visit and acknowledge the sacrifices our service members and Gold Star families made – and continue to make – to keep us safe.”
“On behalf of the hundreds of Gold Star families in the community, I want to thank the Woody Williams Foundation for all their support and leadership in creating sacred spaces for those of us who lost a family member as a result of serving their country,” Kamber Good said in a press release about the project.
Good lost her husband due to chemical exposure during his years of service in the Iraq War and also served as a volunteer on the committee that organized the monument fundraising effort. “This memorial represents not just those who died on foreign soil fighting wars, but also those who brought the war home with them. This place will let us reflect on those we lost and take stock of all the blessings we have because of their service to our country.”
The gold star as a military symbol began in World War I. With the US involvement starting in 1917, families hung banners with blue stars representing family members in the services. If the service member died in combat, the family changed the blue star to gold. After the Great War, Gold Star Mothers formed a group that was incorporated in 1928.
Corporal Hershel "Woody" Williams, a Marine, was the last surviving World War II recipient of the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor. He passed away on June 21, 2022, at age 98. The son of West Virginia dairy farmers, Williams received the medal for his heroic actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Williams formed the Woody Williams Foundation in 2010. The monument in Lacey is the 120th installed nationwide. Other sites in Washington State include Bellingham, Lynnwood, Fort Walla Walla, Forks, and a project in development at Tahoma National Cemetery.
Alex Nauert, Director of Programs at the Woody Williams Foundation, spoke at the unveiling. “We are honored to have patriotic Americans reach out to us to acknowledge Woody’s service and legacy and take steps to keep his dream alive through fulfilling his mission to create spaces and places that give Gold Star families a place to remember their loved ones lost while in service to our country,” said Nauert. “This monument, and all the tireless work to make it a reality, signals to Gold Star families that, on and off the battlefield, we do not leave anyone behind and that we will continue to honor their loved ones and them for their ultimate sacrifice defending our freedoms.”
The monument is made of four black granite panels, eight inches thick, eight feet long, and over seven feet high. A special process enabled colored inscription. The front of the monument, designed by Woody Williams, is standard for all monuments issued through the Woody Williams Foundation.
A golden star is accompanied by the words, “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument Tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.” The inverse is customized for the local community. Four images were chosen with the titles, Homeland (Mt. Rainier), Family (parents and a child), Patriot (the WWII Iwo Jima flag-raising), and Sacrifice (Arlington Cemetery gravestones and a 2-wheeled caisson carrying a casket covered with the US flag). A stone silhouette of a saluting service member represents the fallen hero who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Michael Jameson told The JOLT that the monument’s appearance cannot fail to affect you, “and this is a place to come to get some kind of closure,” he said.
Michael Steadman pointed out that even though the three-plus year journey to raise funds for the memorial took place during the pandemic, the Woody Williams Foundation, local leaders, businesses, and citizens came forward to support the project – from the paperwork to contributing and raising funds. Individuals and businesses alike helped.
The weighty monument required a reinforced foundation, which alone cost $30,000. The entire project exceeded $140,000 excluding land acquisition. The real estate at the monument site was donated by the Washington State Department of Transportation and the City of Lacey. The City of Lacey followed the land donation with $30,000 to allow the project’s completion.
Locally sourced Hero Memorial Bricks are for sale to support the project and its ongoing maintenance. In all, 400 bricks will be inscribed and installed at the monument’s base. The 200 inscribed so far will be placed on Memorial Day, with more to be placed on Veterans Day. Supporters may purchase bricks with their name or the name of a fallen service member. Or simply make a tax-deductible donation to the Foundation. All funds raised will be used to maintain the now-completed monument. For more information, please visit the website.
This project required a large number of dedicated volunteers. An incomplete list of volunteers includes Michael Jameson, Michael Steadman, Jerry Wilkins, Allen Acosta, Ed Kunkel Jr., Michelle Black, and Kamber Good. Black and Good are both Gold Star spouses and veteran advocates. Michelle Black is the author of Sacrifice: A Gold Star Widow's Fight for the Truth and a New York Times Magazine article on the same topic.
The Woody Williams Foundation is a charitable 501c(3) organization that realizes the vision of Medal of Honor Recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams. The Foundation encourages, with the assistance of the American public and community leaders, establishing permanent Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments throughout the United States, conducting Gold Star Families Outreach across the country, and providing Living Legacy scholarships to eligible Gold Star Family members.
The Gold Star Memorial Foundation (GSMF) Lacey is a 501c(3) nonprofit that seeks to memorialize the dedication and sacrifice of our local families whose loved one has paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. Their values and mission align with the parent organization’s mission, which states, “To honor, recognize, and serve the Gold Star Families and the legacy of their loved ones who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Speakers included: LTC Thomas D. Angstadt, 1-2 Stryker Brigade; David Puente Jr., Director YOUR Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs; Kamber Good, Gold Star Wife and Former Foundation Board Member; Michael Jameson, Former Founding Board Member and Past President; and Alex Nauert, Director of Programs from the Woody Williams Foundation.
Other parts of the program included: America’s ICorps Band, two bagpipers from Tacoma Scots Pipe Band, 1-2 Stryker Brigade Color Guard, the unveiling, Cherokee Nation Warrior Song, and the presentation of yellow roses by Gold Star families. A gala and fundraiser at the Lacey Community Center followed in the evening.