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'Pain and pride': Gold Star families to be honored with Naperville memorial

May 20 2023
Kevin Schmit | Daily Herald

Memorial Day weekend always, and understandably, strikes Denise Williams hard.

The Plainfield resident lost her son, Andrew Meari, in 2010 when he was killed in Afghanistan while serving in the Army. Meari, who died trying to prevent a suicide bomber from entering his unit's camp in Kandahar, was 21 years old.

Thirteen years later, the sacrifice made by Meari and the pain felt by his family endure.

On Saturday in Naperville, families of local fallen soldiers will be honored when a Gold Star memorial is unveiled in Veterans Park as part of Memorial Day weekend ceremonies.

Williams, president of the Illinois Department of American Gold Star Mothers, will deliver the keynote address. For all the appearances she's made on behalf of the group, Williams knows the day will be particularly emotional for her.

"That mixture of pain and pride, and gratitude and awe and sadness," she said. "I know it's just going to be emotionally overwhelming, but it's something that's incredibly important to me."

The monument, the first of its kind in Illinois, is the creation of Hershel "Woody" Williams, a World War II Marine veteran who earned the Medal of Honor through his heroic actions on Iwo Jima. Williams died last year.