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Group raises funds for monument to honor Gold Star families in Elmira area

May 26 2021
Jeff Murray | Elmira Star-Gazette

An Elmira man is looking for public support to create a monument that will honor families of members of the armed forces who died while serving their country.

James Hackett is working with the Woody Williams Foundation to create a memorial honoring Gold Star families and the loved ones they lost.

The Louisville, Kentucky-based foundation has installed 82 monuments across the country and has another 77 monuments in progress, according to the organization's website.

The proposed Elmira monument would be located in Pulaski Park, at 311 W. Center St.

Why build a Gold Star monument?

"I found out my grandmother was a Gold Star mother. Two of her sons are buried in Woodlawn National Cemetery. They were both killed in World War II," Hackett said. "I found out about the monument program. Since we don't have one, I thought it would be nice for the area. It hasn't been approved yet by the City Council, but I don't see a problem with that."

The idea of Gold Star families came from service flags that were first flown by families during World War I.

The flag included a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the armed forces. If that loved one died, the blue star was replaced by a gold star.

The Woody Williams Foundation was created by Hershel "Woody" Williams, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1945.

The monuments created by the foundation are made of black granite. In New York, there are monuments already installed in Albany, Rochester and Romulus.

Where would a new monument fit in Elmira?

The committee Hackett assembled first looked at Brand Park as a location for the Elmira monument but decided Pulaski Park was a better fit.

"It's within a block of the Vietnam museum, it's close to the National Cemetery and close to the John Jones House," Hackett said. "There's plenty of room for it. There's no room at Wisner Park. Someone suggested Eldridge Park, but you want solitude for your family. You don't want 200 people roaming around."

Mayor expects support for monument proposal

Once Hackett has a final plan prepared, he can submit it to the Elmira City Council for consideration, said Mayor Dan Mandell, who added he is fully behind the proposal.

"Absolutely. I know we are excited to see them do this project," Mandell said. "Once he's ready to go, we'll take it in front of the council. I'd like to see it become a reality. He's working on funding and what he needs from the city is approval to put the monument in one of our parks."

What's needed to make the Gold Star monument happen?

The committee needs to raise $75,000 to erect the monument, and fundraising efforts are just getting underway, Hackett said.

"I've reached out to American Legion (posts), the VFW, Corning Foundation, Hilliard Foundation, and several area businesses. I don't think we'll have a problem raising the money," he said. "If we can get ground broken this fall, it should be done by late spring or early summer next year. It takes about 18 months. Good things take time."

For more information about the Gold Star monuments, go to To learn more about donating to a monument project, contact the Woody Williams foundation at