Jun 28 2023
Zach Freeman | Tri-County Reporter
For more than a year, Azle area military veterans have been spreading the word and drumming up support for a Gold Star Memorial in Azle. Gold Star Memorials are a shrine intended to represent fallen soldiers and honor the Gold Star families that survive them. The name comes from U.S. military tradition in which mothers with sons serving in the U.S. Armed Forces can receive a blue star banner, and if that loved one dies in the line of duty, then their family will receive a gold star banner.
The Gold Star Memorial began as an effort by World War II veteran Hershel “Woody” Williams and is being carried on the Woody Williams Foundation after Williams’ passing in 2022. To date, 127 Gold Star monuments have been built across all 50 states.
One person who is working to make the Gold Star Memorial a reality in Azle is the founder of Woody’s Salute, Myers Jackson. Jackson is a proud marine veteran and has family who served in the army and marines. He started his military career when he joined the Army National Guard in 1984 while in high school.
Myers Jackson began his relationship with Williams after being invited to the christening of the U.S.S. Hershel Woody Williams. Through that connection, Jackson began acting as an auctioneer for Woody Williams Foundation events.
“He had become a very close friend of mine,” Jackson said. When Williams became the last living Medal of Honor recipient, Jackson sought to celebrate his friend and commemorate the history surrounding him.
“I looked around and said somebody ought to be saying something, somebody ought to be doing something. So, I came up with the idea of Woody’s Salute. This was not designed for Woody to salute everybody; it was for everybody to salute Woody for what he’s done for the community.”
Despite Williams only being a warrant officer by the end of his service, Jackson described seeing immense respect directed toward Williams from military personnel of any and every rank.
“We’d roll up to these installations and all these colonels and generals, they’re saluting Woody,” Jackson said. “So, I was sitting there one night and said I want to organize a fundraiser that recognizes Woody Williams as the last living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, that we salute Woody and thank him.”
Jackson held the first fundraiser in Arlington last year. It generated significant traction and was attended by the commandant of the Marine Corps, who was the keynote speaker.
Williams died only 18 days later.
“It was a sad, somber time,” Jackson said. “He was the 38th person that got to lie in state at the U.S. capitol. It was a big news event. That day I got to meet the secretary of defense, I got to meet senators from all over the place and I got to meet the Speaker of the House, U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi. I had a conversation with Nancy Pelosi talking about Woody Williams. It was a very emotional time.”
Today Jackson wants to help as an auctioneer by continuing Woody’s Salute to raise funds for the foundation. “I’m just here to continue the cause and when Mark Donahew (lifelong Azle resident) said ‘we want to put one of these monuments in the Azle community’ I said I’m on-board … (Donahew) is the guy that says I want this to happen in my community. He’s a navy veteran.”
Jackson described how Woody Williams and his foundation have made a massive impact on his life.
“Honestly, I’ve got to do things that a lot of people don’t get to do, and it wasn’t because of me, it was because of Woody,” Jackson said. “Woody has a very powerful impact on the people he meets, especially the Gold Star families. I not only feel like I’m part of the family, they have treated me like I’m part of the family. That is no joke.”
Jackson said that Gold Star Memorials are an amazing resource to help honor veterans and their families.
“I know there are lots of veterans who do not get the recognition they deserve,” Jackson said. “Sometimes they’re even too humble to ask for the recognition. Being a part of this, I’m showing it is OK to get recognized. It is OK to stand up and say ‘I’m a veteran.’ It is OK that I’m part of the community … So, what these monuments do, is they give an opportunity for the people to come in into the community and if they have no other way to weep, no other way to grieve, no other way to see the recognition that is paid at least they can go and put their hand on a monument that says ‘Hey, this is what this stands for.’”
Jackson described the story of how Williams came to establish the Gold Star Memorials after a father came to him in tears after a speech.
“He says he comes down off the podium and he greets this gentleman, and this gentleman looks at him with tears in his eyes and he says, ‘you know fathers weep too.’ Woody was like ’woah’ it changed his whole atmosphere of thinking to not only be about Gold Star mothers, it’s about Gold Star families.”
Originally set for June, the Woody’s Salute auction has been rescheduled to August to better accommodate peoples’ schedules and draw out greater participation. “Our goal is to raise 90 thousand (dollars),” Jackson said. Any money left over after the monument’s construction will go back into Woody Williams Foundation as seed money for other monuments. “Our number one goal is to get sponsors and doners wherever it comes, and the auction is a tremendous additive to finish that out,” Jackson said. “The community support is great. Every time we explain what’s going on people are behind it.”
One supportive community member, Jim Thomason, is a local developer and veteran with four years of active duty, 11 years in reserve and one year as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.
“I knew Woody Williams very well,” Thomason said. “I’m 100 percent for that monument. I think it’s a wonderful tribute to these fallen soldiers. We can’t forget our history.”
Thomason said he believes the community discussion surrounding the monument will lead to the best possible outcome.
“It’s not some unilateral decision that somebody makes,” Thomason said. “When the whole community gets involved, they usually wind up with a good decision.” Thomason is a donor to the Woody Williams Foundation and is deeply involved in local veterans organizations, being the Chairman of the PGA Military Committee in Fort Worth and a Director of the AirPower Foundation, the nation’s oldest civilian military support organization. “Everybody in this part of North Texas is pretty patriotic,” Thomason said. “I know Azle certainly is; they’ve got quite a few veterans here. I think everybody will like it, the Woody Williams Memorial. They’ve had it all over the country and nobody has failed to appreciate it and like it. We just got to raise money; I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”
You can find more information and future updates about the auction at the www.myersjackson.com/woodys-salute website.