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Gold Star Families Memorial Monument unveiled at Sugar Land Memorial Park

Dec 11 2022
Ken Fountain | Fort Bend Star

With a golden late-afternoon sun peeking through scattered clouds, dignitaries and members of the pubic gathered on December 7 to see the unveiling of the latest addition to Sugar Land Memorial Park - the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.

The monument, the culmination of about not quite two years of planning and fundraising, added a missing piece to the master-planned park - a recognition of the family members of U.S. service members who have given their lives for their country.

The monument, one of 115 now at locations throughout the United States (with 67 others underway), sits near the front entrance to the park. The park alongside the Brazos River is also the home of the "Remembrance Tower," which lists the names of Sugar Land residents who died while serving in uniform.

The monuments, which resembles a segmented wall of black granite with a cutout sihloette of a saluting soldier beside a star, is a project of the Woody Williams Foundation, named after Hershel “Woody” Williams, a U.S. Marine veteran of WWII who received the Congressional Medal of Freedom for his actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Williams died in June of last year.

Sugar Land Mayor Joe Zimmerman, acting as master of ceremonies at the event, noted the prime location of the monument within the park.

"This is a quiet place for families of those who have lost their loved ones in war to remember their loved ones," he said.

Zimmerman said the monument was made possible through the efforts of 40 donors who together contributed approximately $85,000.

Other speakers included Sunny Sharma, president of the Sugar Land Legacy Foundation, which helped facilitate the placing of the monument, and Jim Hoelker, a member of the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument Committee. Sharma noted that the ceremony was taking place on the 81st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, in which 2,403 American service members died.

Hoelker told the gathering that when the committee first approached the city, they were told it would take about two years to get the project completed. Hoelker said the committee wished to have that timeline expedited, and to be assured that the monument would have a prime location in the park.

"Mr. Mayor, you delivered," he told Zimmerman.

Zimmerman called on any members of Gold Star Families who were present to come speak if they wished.

Ana Hernandez, of Splendora, somewhat haltingly came forward. Admitting she was nervous, she said she was there in honor of her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Armando Hernandez, who died on June 29 while serving on Okinawa.

"This year it has been hard to hold our hearts together," she said. "We thank you so much."

Jana Dunkel Owens, mother of Marine Cpl. Casey Owens, was a featured speaker.

Owens spoke movingly about her son, who as a youngster decided he wanted to become a Marine because he admired the dress blue uniform.

While serving during the war in Iraq, the vehicle he was riding in struck a "double-stacked" improvised explosive device. The ensuing explosion caused Casey to suffer multiple, severe injuries.

Owens said that while her son had to undergo several surgeries and rehabilitation stays over many years at different Veterans Administration hospitals, he always tired to cheer up his fellow veterans and stand up for them if he felt they weren't being treated with respect.

She said her son, despite his normally positive outlook, experienced bouts of depression and addition until he ultimately became "one of the 29." He was buried at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

"He was my hero," she said.

Following the speeches, the gathered dignitaries removed the black cloth covering the monument, followed by a bugler playing "Taps."

Members of the Gold Star Families in attendance were next invited to place flowers at the base of the monument, followed by a moving rendition of "God Bless America" sung my Kayleigh McCarter, the 2022 Jr. Sugar Land Super Star.