Sep 17 2023
Lizzie Kaboski | NWITimes
DYER — The monuments were a long time coming.
After 12 years of planning and fundraising, a bronze statue of Dyer native and fallen soldier Army Staff Sgt. David P. Nowaczyk with his daughter Kiley was unveiled Saturday morning at Pheasant Hills Park. Two hours later, a monument dedicated to Gold Star families whose loved ones died during military service was uncovered at Central Park.
"This moment has been a long time in the making, with the Nowaczyk family driving us to get to this day," Dyer Town Manager David Hein said.
Andrew and Patti Nowaczyk worked closely with the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation to raise the $250,000 to create, erect and maintain the monument for their son and the Gold Star families. David was killed April 15, 2012 during his third tour of Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device went off under the vehicle he was riding in. He was raised in Northwest Indiana and was a 1997 graduate of Lake Central High School.
"I'm proud, but it's bittersweet," Patti said after the monument was uncovered. "This [park] is where David used to bring Kiley as a baby." A sign dedicating the play area of the park to David was installed in 2013.
David's wife, Rachel, daughter and stepson, Connor shared their testimony about the loss of David. Friend and fellow serviceman Matthew Djukic spoke to the crowd, about their experience overseas and what David's death taught him about life.
"Dave taught me how to live my life every day," Djukic said. "I want to take advantage of every moment, every opportunity. Life is precious, and it can be taken away."
Families and loved ones laid yellow carnations next to both monuments, signifying sympathy.
David enlisted in the army in fall 2005. In 2006, he was deployed with the Third Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan as a rifleman for eight months. He was deployed again in 2009 with the same team, this time serving as a Fire Team Leader for 12 months. An engraved concrete slab across from the state reads: "When asked why he kept going back to Afghanistan, David said, 'So all girls will have the freedom to go to school, play and choose their future.'"
At the Gold Star Memorial dedication ceremony, numerous families of fallen soldiers were in attendance. Indiana Fallen Heroes set up a display of posters with the names of every person from Indiana who served and died serving the United States military. The Lake County Sheriff's Department's helicopter flew over the crowd right before the ceremony began. Pat O'Donnell, Vietnam veteran and founder of Veteran's Viewer Radio Show on WJOB, emceed the ceremony.
"To me, today is a solemn day," O'Donnell said. "Nothing can erase the tragedy from [the Gold Star families'] lives. But today, we honor their sacrifices."
The term Gold Star family originated in World War I when family members would wear black arm bands with gold stars to represent a loved one who died in the war, O'Donnell said. Banners with blue stars were hung to remember immediate family members who were serving. In the event of a death, that blue star is replaced with a gold star.
"This is a group we did not want to join," Patti said. "Your child will miss so many experiences that should have been shared with family and friends. It means an empty chair at the table that will never be filled. But becoming Gold Stars means we joined another family--our other Gold Star families."
Nine other fallen soldiers who grew up in Dyer were honored: World War I Army Private Herbert Keilman, World War II Army Cpl. Homer "Binks" Gettler, Cpl. William Walden and Robert Keilman, Korean War Cpl. James Farmer, Vietnam War Marine Corps Cpl. William Trent, Army 4th Class Specialist Joseph Mitchell, Specialist 5th Class Daryl Grothaus and Nowaczyk.
"Our hope is that Gold Star families can come here and remember their loved ones with a smile in their heart," Patti said. The four sections of the monument pay tribute to the United States, family, patriotism and the sacrifice the soldiers made.
Afghanistan veteran and retired Lake Central High School teacher Tom Clark made note of a wide gap in the monument between the sections of patriotism and sacrifice as a motif for the "hole in your heart" families feel when they lose a loved one.
"But if you look through it, you can see the great America we have today," Clark said. "And it's because of your sons and daughters who have given their lives."