Nov 11 2019
Renee Yan |Community Impact
As communities honor the veterans who have served in the U.S. armed forces, Keller High School freshman Erin Stillinger is also inviting local residents to help recognize the families of fallen service members.
Erin, 14, has been working to bring a tribute monument to the city for more than a year. A groundbreaking ceremony took place outside of Keller Town Hall—the site of the monument—in February. City Council also recently approved a site plan amendment to add a 1,400-foot-plaza in October.
“It's a monument that will honor Gold Star Families, which is a family that lost a loved one in military service,” she said. “It could be somebody who died in war or military training.”
Similar monuments can be found across 42 states. They came from the vision of Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, whose foundation helps build monuments and provide scholarships for Gold Star family members.
The tradition of gold stars dates back to World War I, according to a letter of personal reflection penned by Williams. Families who had a member serving in the military would place a flag with a blue star in their windows.
“If their family member was killed while serving, they would remove the blue star and replace it with a gold star,” Williams said in his letter. “No family wants to be a Gold Star family, but sometimes that is the price we must pay for our freedom.”
Erin said she first heard about these memorial monuments through her father, Randy Stillinger, who works with military men and women at American Airlines. Her father is also in the Army, transitioning from the National Guard to the Reserve.
“I guess that kind of touched a spot on my heart, so it just means a lot to me,” Erin said. “I know how big of a loss it is for other families.”
The hope is to make it a place of reflection and offer some peace to families of fallen soldiers, she said. With the newly approved plaza, there will be benches and a place where people can place bricks engraved with names or messages. The U.S. and Texas flags will also fly atop flagpoles.
“We're also going to have a soldiers cross, which represents the fallen soldier,” Erin said.
The project costs about $80,000. Erin and a project committee group have helped raise about $58,000. A completion date has not been set for the project yet because the focus is on fundraising at the moment, Erin said.
It has received support from various community members, including businesses wishing to donate products and services and City Council Member Ed Speakmon, a former Marine who died in March, according to a city press release.
“We have a donation spot on our [website] where people can go and donate in his name,” Erin said. “We're doing that to honor him.”
Once the work is finished, there will be a dedication ceremony with speeches from Erin and others who have had a hand in bringing this memorial to Keller—including Willliams.
“We can never totally repay veterans, and their families, for what they have done for our country,” Williams wrote in his letter. “Dedicating a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument is an appropriate way to honor and pay tribute to the families of the men and women who have served our country and made the ultimate sacrifice protecting our freedom.”
More information about donations can be found here. Updates may also be found on the project’s Facebook page.