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Ground broken for Gold Star Families monument in Florence Veterans Park

Oct 03 2019

FLORENCE, S.C. — Supporters of Florence's Gold Star Families Monument at Florence Veterans Park gathered Thursday morning to break ground for the monument, slated to be one of the larger at the site.

The monument will be unveiled at this year's Veterans Day event.

Eddie Collins, the chairman of the committee behind the monument, said his impetus to build the monument came after he saw a similar one at Mt. Pleasant.

Brown Memorials is constructing and erecting the monument. Collins, a Vietnam veteran and military retiree, said he escorted the bodies of two friends back from Vietnam, one of which was the first husband of fellow committee member Peggy Moore.

Once in place, Collins said, the monument will serve as an enduring reminder of both the generosity of the residents in and around Florence and to the sacrifice made by families of those who died serving the United States.

"My first husband was killed in Vietnam, May 19, 1971, at the age of 23," Moore said. "Because of this I was invited to be on the committee to help create this beautiful monument. It is an honor to be on this committee."

"This beautiful monument will be a welcome addition to this fantastic Veterans Park," Moore said. "As a Gold Star widow I know this Gold Star monument will serve as a place all Gold Star families can visit and know the generous people of Florence, South Carolina, care and will always care and remember the never-ending sacrifices made by these families and the mourning that continues day after day."

The front of the monument will be much like many others out there that use the basic design of the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation design.

The back of the monument, though, will be all local, said retired U.S. Army Col. Barry Wingard, a member of the Florence Veterans Park committee.

"You'll see the seals of the services plus the Merchant Marines," Wingard said. "The star in South Carolina where Florence is, some words we came up with, and this picture at the bottom. I want you to look at it closely; it is hands of a soldier presenting a flag to someone who has lost a loved one."

Wingard said the committee looked high and low for just the right photo of that particular scene but couldn't find one.

So they shot their own with Collins as the presenter and Moore as the recipient

"This was taken maybe a month ago in the National Cemetery. In real life, almost 50 years ago, Eddie actually presented the flag to Peggy at her first husband's funeral," Wingard said.

Chief Boatswain's Mate James Elliott Williams' grave is in the background of the photo. A former Darlington resident, Williams was the recipient of the Medal of Honor and is considered to be the most decorated enlisted man in the history of the U.S. Navy.

Wingard also announced the speaker for this year's Veterans Day event at the park — Brigadier General Jeffrey R. Johnson, a Pee Dee native who currently serves with the South Carolina National Guard.

"I've heard him speak and he is good," Wingard said.

The Veterans Day ceremony will be Monday, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m. at Florence Veterans Park, adjacent to the Florence Center.