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New Monument Proposed for Lakefront

Sep 19 2022
Graham Kilmer | Urban Milwaukee

A national foundation is planning to build a monument to “Gold Star families” on the grounds of the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center at the lakefront.

“This monument is intended to honor and pay tribute to those families who have lost a loved one or a family member in service,” Dale Egan, vice president of the Woody Williams Foundation recently told the county board’s Committee on Parks and Culture.

The Woody Williams Foundation, based in Louisville, Kentucky, is named for Hershel “Woody” Williams, who passed away in June, and was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient who served during World War II. One of the foundation’s primary goals is the development of “Gold Star family memorials” throughout the country. It has built and dedicated 47 identical monuments in 41 states.

According to the foundation’s website, which shows what the memorial looks like, these memorials “are a two-sided tribute made of black granite. One side bears the words: Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom. On the other side of the monument, there are scenes etched on each of the four panels: Homeland, Family, Patriot and Sacrifice. At the center of this tribute, is a silhouette of a saluting service member which represents the Legacy of the Loved Ones who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our Freedom.”

The foundation is seeking to construct such a monument on the northern end of the War Memorial Grounds, near the border of and just southeast Veterans Park. It is providing all the funding for the project, at $110,000. The funding has been raised from “several public and private companies,” according to the foundation, and once completed it will be donated to the War Memorial Center. The foundation has been working with parks staff on this project since 2016.

The project falls within the Lakefront Cultural Condominium, which was created in 2017 to oversee land in the area owned by the Milwaukee Art Museum, the War Memorial Center and Milwaukee County and therefore would need approval from that entity. Because the land being proposed for the memorial is not parkland, the county board does not have any authority over the matter. But the proposal was brought to the parks committee because there is likely to be public interest in the project, said Aaron Hertzberg, director of the Department of Administrative Services.

Ultimately, authority to approve the proposal on behalf of Milwaukee County rests with County Executive David Crowley. The Wisconsin Legislature changed state law to give the Milwaukee County Executive, specifically, sole authority over all county properties not zoned as parkland. Former County Executive Chris Abele successfully lobbied for this change while he was in office.

The foundation wrote in a letter to representatives of the three unit owners of the cultural condominium saying “We believe this monument is additive to the War Memorial’s existing inclusive mission to ‘Honor the Dead – Serve the Living.'”

Sup. Sheldon Wasserman asked how much space the monument would take up, noting that this tract of land on the War Memorial site was recently redeveloped to include storm water management elements. “We spent a lot of money just redoing this entire commons area. We put this beautiful prairie in there. We created this beautiful hill and mound. And it’s just stunning the project that was done repaving the entire parking lot,” he said.

“The footprint of this monument is small,” Egan said. The monument will have a radius of 35 feet, he said.

A rendering of the monument shows it is designed as a circle. A circle with a radius of approximately 35 feet will have a total area of approximately 3,800 square feet.

Egan said The Sigma Group, which designed and engineered the new features and the War Memorial parking lot as part of the Greenprint-Milwaukee Shoreline Vision Plan, provided them with the engineering requirements for the paving of the nearby paths, so there will be a seamless transition between those recently completed projects and the proposed memorial.