Jun 11 2019
Evan Bevins | News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG — As the last living U.S. Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, Hershel “Woody” Williams gets a lot of attention when he comes to town.
But when Williams stepped to the microphone Monday as the dedication of the new Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Parkersburg’s City Park drew to a close, he emphasized he was not the centerpiece of the gathering.
“This is not about me,” he said. “I’m just a cog in the wheel. It’s about them.”
Williams motioned to the monument that, minutes later, would be unveiled to the assembled crowd of veterans, city officials, area residents and Gold Star families — those who have lost a loved one in service to the country.
“We really have not done anything to pay tribute, as a society and a people, for those sacrifices,” he said.
Nearly a decade ago, Williams and his Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation began to work to change that. So far, they have assisted in the building and dedication of 48 Gold Star monuments around the country, including the most recent in Parkersburg.
“It couldn’t happen without the community, so thank you, thank you, thank you,” Williams said.
It was a moving event for Parkersburg residents Mary Anne Auth and Helen Showalter, sisters whose father, Frank Vogel, was a Marine who died in World War II on May 14, 1945, at Okinawa. He’s one of five local veterans memorialized as part of the monument.
“I never got to know him,” said Showalter, who was born two months after her father went overseas.
Vogel died two days before Auth’s 3rd birthday. She only remembers her father through the stories her mother told her, her sister and her brother.
“My mother raised the three of us herself,” Auth said. “I consider her a hero also.”
Auth said she appreciated the monument, the ceremony dedicating it and the weather cooperating on an overcast afternoon.
“I can’t believe that it didn’t rain ’til right now,” she said, noting the clouds didn’t burst until the ceremony was over. “I think that’s God working.”
Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said he was approached about erecting a Gold Star monument in the city 13 months ago by local Marine Corps veteran Bernie Lyons and Vinnie Conley, with the PM Company. Both had worked on efforts to build Gold Star monuments in Marietta and Vienna. A committee consisting of local officials, veterans and community members was formed to raise money for the project.
The major sponsors for the monument were United Bank, Mary “Mickey” Welch, Peoples Bank, the Spartan Foundation, West Virginia Central Federal Credit Union and Riverview Credit Union. A number of others contributed, some with donations of $5, organizers have said.
Joyce thanked Jessie King with Laborers Local 1085 for getting the foundation to the monument in place.
“Jessie and his guys were right on the spot, and we could not have done it without them,” the mayor said.
Bryan Casey, with Williams’ foundation, presented Lyons with a medal designating him as an honorary board member.
“Mr. Bernie Lyons has now championed three monuments for us,” he said.
“It was an honor to do it,” Lyons replied.
One side of the monument reads, “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, A tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives, who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.” The other is divided into four sections labeled Homeland, Family, Patriot and Sacrifice.
The Homeland section features a photo of Parkersburg taken from Fort Boreman Hill by city resident Danny Carpenter. He presented the photo to Joyce a while back, and the mayor later contacted him to ask how much he would charge for it to be used in the monument.
“I said, ‘I ain’t taking no money for that,'” Carpenter said. “I’m just honored to be associated with it.”
Carpenter said he was impressed with the monument, located amid other tributes to the military across from the City Park pond.
Representatives of the West Virginia Gold Star Mothers were in attendance, 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.
Shirley White, president of the West Virginia Department of American Gold Star Mothers, asked other Gold Star family members to stand and say the name of their loved one. One woman spoke in honor of Tyler Westbrook, a Williamstown High School graduate who took his life in 2015 as a result of the “unseen wounds” associated with his service in the Army. Parkersburg resident Carma Lehman referred to her uncle, Marine Lt. Col. John Sbordone, another local veteran recognized on the monument.