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Gold Star Families Memorial Monument groundbreaking Sept. 17

Aug 29 2020
Linda May | Macomb Daily

A monument can be a means to tell a story.

The site dedication and groundbreaking ceremony for the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument is at 3 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Clinton Township Civic Center, 40700 Romeo Plank Road.

Karen Straffon, of Algonac, spearheads the project. She is also active in the Wreaths Across America effort that adorns the graves of veterans every December.

“I was doing the Wreaths Across America project with my husband one year and I read the headstone of Robert G. Fante,” Straffon said. “It said he was in a Marine Corps unit in Vietnam and he was born in 1948 and died in 1968. So when I got in the car I Googled his name and I was shocked.

“It turns out, he went to East Detroit High School and was injured on his first tour of duty in Vietnam. He was in the Great Lakes Naval Hospital for six months,” she said.

Straffon got in touch with his mother and his brother.

“I found out that when he got home he told his mother he was going back to the Marines and Vietnam because ‘it was the only sane place to be.’ Two weeks after he turned 20, he was killed and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross which is the second highest award next to the Medal of Honor but you wouldn’t know that from looking at his headstone,” she said.

Family and friends have now added some public honors with the Navy Cross designation to his resting place.

“I went to visit his mother and she brought out his footlocker and medals, every letter he wrote home, his uniforms. It’s been over 50 years now but what he did was phenomenal. It broke my heart when his mother said to me, ‘I thought everybody forgot.’ That’s why I have to do this. That’s why I’m so passionate about honoring them,” Straffon said.

All families who have lost a loved one in military service, and those who care about them, are invited to the dedication. “Everyone is invited. This is their monument,” she said.

Straffon is expecting family members of those lost anywhere or any time in the military – in World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and other places – to attend.

The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument honors the survivors, preserves the memory of the fallen, and reminds us that freedom is not free.

The ceremony includes: master of ceremony Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon; a bagpiper; Posting of the Colors by the Clinton Township Police Honor Guard; and singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Straffon will announce Gold Star families in attendance. The Blue Star Mothers – a service organization of families with children currently in the armed forces – will present roses to the Gold Star family members.

TACOM’s Brian Cummings and Paul Rogers are guest speakers, and there will be a Zoom greeting by Woody Williams, Medal of Honor recipient of the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation. Taps will be played by Al Opra and a rifle salute will be given by the police honor guard.

Because of the pandemic, fundraising to pay for the $70,000 monument from the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation is behind.

The purchase of brick pavers helps build the black granite monument. Sizes and costs are: 4-inches-by 8-inches $125; 8-inches-by-8-inches $250; 16-inches-by 16-inches (that are four 8-inches-by-8-inches) $1,000. Order forms are on the project's Facebook page.

Checks for bricks or donations should be made payable to the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation and mailed to Karen Straffon, 5007 Pte. Tremble Road, Algonac MI 48001.

Contact her at or 810-794-0638 or visit