Apr 17 2019
Evan Bevins | Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG — The Gold Star Families Monument for which ground was broken Tuesday afternoon in Parkersburg’s City Park is meant to honor those who have sacrificed their lives to protect the United States and the families they left behind.
“As time and future comes and goes, many will view this memorial and somehow know their freedoms and the freedoms of others were preserved by those we honor here today,” said Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living U.S. Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. “They and their sacrifices must not be forgotten.”
Williams came up with the concept for the Gold Star monuments, 47 of which have been dedicated around the country. Four are in West Virginia, where Williams was born and raised and still calls home. His Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation encourages and assists with establishing the monuments.
While nothing can take the place of those lost, Williams said he hopes the monument will provide some manner of peace and solace to families who know their loved one will be remembered.
“If it serves no other purpose, the rewards would be worthy of every effort that is made,” he said. The monument is scheduled to be dedicated on June 10, said Bernie Lyons, a local Marine Corps veteran and member of the committee that was tasked with raising funds for the project.
Bryan Casey, with Williams’ foundation, said more than $35,000 has been donated to the project and contributions are still being accepted at the foundation’s website, hwwmohf.org. People can also contribute at the Market Street branch of United Bank.
“There’ve been really big donations and donations of $5,” Casey said.
The City of Parkersburg has assisted with surveys and engineering to prepare the site, which is located in the midst of other military monuments at the park.
“We will also help with construction as necessary and appropriate,” Mayor Tom Joyce said.
Approximately 200 people attended the groundbreaking, which featured “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the song “Mansions of the Lord” performed by the Blennerhassett Elementary School Choir, a cannon blast by the Carlin’s Battery Civil War re-enactors and a 21-gun salute by the American Legion Post 15 color guard.
Shirley White, president of the West Virginia Department of the American Gold Star Mothers organization, delivered remarks on behalf of Gold Star families. She was joined by four other Gold Star mothers, including Parkersburg native Terry Souther Cunningham, whose son, West Virginia Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Robert Cunningham, passed away in 2018; and Spencer resident Vicki Matics, whose son, Navy Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Joseph Ashley died in 2005.
“We want our children remembered,” said White, who lost two sons, Robert and Andrew, who served in the military.
Earlier in the day, Williams visited Belpre Elementary School, where Principal Joy Edgell said he spoke about patriotism, courage and hope.
“His message was ‘You are our future, and your name is so important,'” she said. “‘Think about your reputation and always fight for freedom.'”
Edgell said Williams engaged with students and left us a Medal of Honor book for the library so students can do more research.
“He is a living piece of history that our students were honored to talk with and learn about,” she said.