Apr 20 2023
Caleb McClusky | Daily Journal
TUPELO — Families and those who lost loved ones in war will soon have a spot to reflect on their life and sacrifice with the near completion of the Gold Star Monument at Veterans Memorial Park in east Tupelo.
Donna Bagwell is the mother of Marc Lucus Tucker, who served in the Marines before dying in Iraq in 2005, making her a gold star mother. A gold star family is anyone who is the immediate family member of a service member who died while serving in a time of conflict. Bagwell is one of a group of local mothers that a part of Gold Star Families of Mississippi.
The monument is a series of four panels with images of patriotism on one side and the phrase "A tribute to gold star families and relatives who sacrificed a loved one for our freedom" on the other side. Two panels form a soldier saluting.
She said at first she did not believe there needed to be a monument to gold star families, but later changed her mind when Hershel “Woody” Williams, a veteran from West Virginia who advocated for Gold Star Families, spoke with their group.
“It is a beautiful moment and it is in a beautiful park,” she said. “It tells the whole story about their love of their country, their patriotism and their sacrifice.”
Contractors installed the monument in early September, but it was placed in the wrong orientation. Since the installation, Gold Star Families of Mississippi have looked for options to reorient the monument, going as far as to ask the city for financial help.
Conventions and Visitors Bureau Director Neal McCoy said it was ultimately too dangerous for the monument and too costly to correct the mistake, with no contractors willing to take the burden.
McCoy said the city did not employ the contractor that installed the monument and there was no site plan for the project before it was installed. He also noted that no city employees were at the park when the monument was installed because it was a holiday weekend.
McCoy noted that the Tupelo City Council voted unanimously to allocate $20,000 to help the organization reorient the sign. Because the organization could not find a willing contractor, $7,500 of the allocation will go toward completing landscaping work and the rest will be available to allocate to another project.
“We were grateful they chose to place it in Tupelo. We are grateful for the service that the Gold Star Families (of Mississippi) does,” he said.
Bagwell said she was frustrated but understood why it could not be corrected, noting that because of its orientation, it is impossible to know what the monument is too without walking to the other side of it.
Pam Presley Tolbert, the mother of Micheal Brandon Presley, who also died served in Iraq as a Marine and died in 2005, said despite the mistake, the monument still stood as a powerful reminder to those who lost loved ones in wartime.
”Things happen. It was all unfortunate, but I think it is going to be a beautiful monument when the landscaping is complete,” she said. “It is a place for the whole family to go as well to honor the sacrifices of our loved one.”
With the decision to not reorient the monument finalized, contractors will complete a concrete pathway around the monument and finish the needed landscaping work, McCoy said, noting it would be complete in a matter of weeks depending on the weather.