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Utah’s first Gold Star memorial honors fallen soldiers and their families

Aug 2 2020
Kathy Stephenson | Salt Lake Tribune

North Ogden • One after another, family members stepped to the microphone and spoke the name of a husband, son, father or uncle who had served their country and made the ultimate sacrifice.

U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Tracy Stapley. Died July 3, 2013, while serving in Qatar.”

Chief Warrant Officer, Kirk Fuchigami Jr. Died Nov. 20, 2019, in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

“Second Lt. John Alley. Drowned the 24th of May, 2008, while stationed in Pensacola, Florida. I was pregnant with his son.”

Each mourner placed a single yellow rose at the base of a large granite stone — Utah’s first Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.

The memorial, unveiled Saturday in North Ogden, is the 61st dedicated in the country. Another 78 are in various stages of construction.

The four-paneled Utah monument sits at 505 E. 2700 North, a grassy plaza surrounded by the North Ogden City Hall, the police station and the North Branch of the Weber County Library.

Kirk Chugg, the director of Follow the Flag North Ogden, said there could be “no better place” for the tribute.

“As people go about their day, we hope they see the monument and teach their children what it means,” Chugg said during the morning ceremony. “It publicly proclaims to families that we have not forgotten them.”

Steve Larsen of Ogden attended the dedication with his wife Linda in honor of their son Staff Sgt. Christian “Fox” Larsen, a combat medic with the Utah National Guard who died June 30, 2013.

“It’s a fraternity that no one wants to belong to,” he said of the Gold Star Families group. But he appreciated the support the memorial will bring to him and his family. He also admired how “public support had changed” for servicemen in recent years. Larsen, a Vietnam war veteran, said he and other American soldiers often faced scorn as the war they fought in became increasingly unpopular.

The Larsens were among more than two dozen families of fallen soldiers who attended the ceremony, along with leaders from the Utah National Guard, Hill Air Force Base, the U.S. Army and various military support organizations.

Several elected leaders — including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Congressman Rob Bishop and Attorney General Sean Reyes — also attended and helped unveil the monument.

Mark and Debbie Allen and their daughter-in-law Hannah Allen are one of Utah’s newest Gold Star families. They attended to honor their son and husband Lt. Kenneth “Kage” Allen, who was killed in June when his F-15C Eagle crashed into the North Sea.

“This will help us remember what America is all about,” said Debbie Allen. “I think too many people forget what we stand for.”

Donations large and small from businesses, residents and nonprofit foundations — including the Maj. Brent Taylor Foundation — raised $120,000 to pay for the memorial and the plaza improvements.

Engraved with the words: homeland, family, patriot and sacrifice, the stone features a cut-out of a saluting soldier and a photo of the large American flag — dubbed “The Major” — that flies across Weber County’s Coldwater Canyon. It was unfurled last year to honor Taylor, a former North Ogden mayor and member of the Utah National Guard who was killed in Afghanistan in 2018.

Taylor’s widow, Jennie, was a driving force behind getting the monument built, said current North Ogden Mayor Neal Berube.

The Gold Star designation dates back to World War I, when military families displayed service flags featuring a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the Armed Forces,” said Berube. The star’s color would change to gold if a loved one died so the community would know the price the family had paid for freedom.

“The strength of our nation is our military,” Berube told the crowd. “The strength of our military is our soldiers. And the strength of our soldiers are our families.”