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Gold Star families honored with memorial, park

Jun 07 2023
Karen Schaffner | Desert Times

A gifted athlete, Christopher Moon was an active kid who rode BMX bikes.

Christopher was an artist and a good student. By all reports he was a bright light, a natural leader. One thing about him, he always wanted to be a soldier.

Christopher graduated from Tucson High School and attended one semester at the UA. Then he enlisted in the Army. He served with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and was a sniper with the 2508 Parachute Infantry Regiment.

His mother, Marsha Moon, knew he would enlist. She also knew she wouldn’t have her son for long. It wasn’t easy to admit, but it was always there.

“I don’t know if moms have this connection with their kids, (but) even when he was a child and growing up, I always had this sense, and I didn’t like it, but I had a sense,” she said. “It’s like, why do I feel like I’m not going to have him that long? It was something that I didn’t like thinking about. Well, you worry about your children, but for some reason, more so him than anything.”

She was right; she didn’t have him long. He deployed to Afghanistan, where he was shot at daily. The enemy knew he was a sniper.

On July 5, 2010, just days before he turned 20, Christopher was severely injured. He stepped on a remote-detonated IED, the Army said, that went off beneath him. He fought for a week but on July 13, 2010, Christopher died and Marsha’s family — husband, Brian, Christopher’s sister, Sunday Lewis, and his niece Semira Moon — became a Gold Star family.

On the corner of South Richey Boulevard and South Palo Verde Road sits Veterans Gold Star Family Park where on May 30, under a brilliant sun, a memorial to Tucson’s own Gold Star families was dedicated. Marsha served on the committee responsible for completing the park and the black granite memorial monument.

“A Gold Star family is a family who has lost a son, a daughter, a spouse, a sister, an uncle, aunt either killed in war or died of injuries sustained in war,” said Barbara Brownlie, who along with Dave Faulkner are honorary board members of the Gold Star Family Memorial Monument and a co-chair of the seven-person committee that brought the memorial to Tucson.

At least one committee member must belong to a Gold Star family. For this committee the duty fell to Marsha.

The park promises to be a meaningful place not just for Tucson residents but for the families who have given all.

“(It’s) a place where we Gold Star families can hold events, a place to go to have a solemn place to remember our loved one,” Marsha said in her public acceptance of the memorial. “We will never get to hold our loved ones but we can gather together and hold each other, shed tears, laugh and share stories.”

The memorial and park came about with the help of the Pima County Board of Supervisors and the Woody Williams Foundation of Louisville, Kentucky, its mission to build a Gold Star Memorial every 50 miles, according to Brownlie. Pima County provided the park and a matching grant of $125,000.

“(Pima County) had a two-phase project there,” Brownlie said. “They finished phase one and they ran out of money for phase two. When our project came on board two years ago, they were partnering with us, and they would do a matching grant, so they gave us the land and they did all the vendors and the basic concrete work for us. We just came in with the memorial and put it on their property.”

Other donations came from private citizens and several Tucson businesses.

Vietnam veteran Robert Ortiz came to the dedication to remember his brother, Antonio Ortiz, a lieutenant junior grade helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy. He was shot down over southern Vietnam.

Antonio Ortiz grew up in Douglas. According to Robert, his brother worked very hard and it paid off when he became a pilot.

“He studied hard to get to where he got to be, and unfortunately, everything came to an end on Dec. 19, 1970,” Robert said, “but he had a big dream on his mind, and he accomplished his dream. He wanted to be a Navy pilot and he worked hard for it, and he got to be one.”

The dedication included a flyover by the Arizona Air National Guard, a presentation of colors by the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Honor Guard and a rendition of “Taps” by Dan Pinda of Bugles Across America.

Gold Star families hope the community will avail themselves of the park and its memorial monument.

“Our community came together to donate and build a memorial for Gold Star families; our country has not forgotten them,” Brownlie said.

“We hope you, too, will spend time here, bring others and family members and share what a Gold Star family is and to honor our fallen heroes,” Marsha said.

“It would be worth the time to come and see (the memorial), look at it, think about it; it can speak to you,” Robert said.