Apr 06 2022
Erin Woodiel | Argus Leader
Local veteran and city leaders held a symbolic groundbreaking Wednesday for a new Gold Star Family Memorial Monument to be constructed at Veterans Memorial Park.
Gold Star Families are relatives of military service members killed in action. Gold Star Monuments are part of a national effort by WWII Medal of Honor recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams to recognize the sacrifice of these family members who lost loved ones to war.
The Gold Star Monument in Sioux Falls will be the first in South Dakota, meaning the Woody Williams Foundation will now have a monument in all 50 states. According to the foundation, a monument will also be placed in Sturgis.
Staff Sgt. Gregory Wagner of Alexandria was killed by a bomb in 2006 at the age of 35 while walking back to a Baghdad police station where his Army National Guard unit was training Iraqi officers. His brother and Gold Star Family member, Dan Wagner, spoke to the room of supporters at the groundbreaking.
"(Gold Star Families) was and is an organization that I do not want to belong to and wish I was not a member of, but one I am immensely proud of," said Wagner. "That sounds contradictory but so spot on for my family as I suspect it is for those who are also Gold Star Family members."
Wagner wears his brother Greg's dog tags around his neck and dons a gold star pin whenever he can to honor his brother's memory.
"I've often wondered in the last 16 years, how long am I allowed to or supposed to grieve?" he said. "I haven't found the answer yet. I know there are over 3,000 service men and women from South Dakota who made the ultimate sacrifice. All those heroes have or had a family who mourned their loss. This Woody Williams Gold Star Family Memorial Monument is a noble, appropriate and needed endeavor."
The Sioux Falls Gold Star Family Memorial Monument will look similar to others around the country, carved in stone with the silhouette of a saluting military service member outlined in negative space. What differentiates each monument are the images on one side, which are specific to each location. The images have not yet been finalized for the Veterans Memorial Park.
Mayor Paul TenHaken attended the groundbreaking and spoke briefly following the ceremony.
"I continue to be very proud of how our city continues to honor our veterans, including those who never made it back home," he said.
TenHaken also encouraged families to bring their kids out to memorial parks such as this in order to instill a respect for veterans in future generations.
The Gold Star Family Memorial Monument is expected to be completed in September.
Donations can be made to the memorial at the Woody Williams Foundation website. The organization is looking to raise $100,000 and has already raised $82,000.