Ground broken for Gold Star monument

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Gold Star Families Monument in Parkersburg City Park Tuesday. The monument is scheduled to be dedicated on June 10. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — The Gold Star Families Monument for which ground was broken Tuesday afternoon in Parkersburg’s City Park is meant to honor those who have sacrificed their lives to protect the United States and the families they left behind.

“As time and future comes and goes, many will view this memorial and somehow know their freedoms and the freedoms of others were preserved by those we honor here today,” said Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living U.S. Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. “They and their sacrifices must not be forgotten.”

Williams came up with the concept for the Gold Star monuments, 47 of which have been dedicated around the country. Four are in West Virginia, where Williams was born and raised and still calls home. His Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation encourages and assists with establishing the monuments.

While nothing can take the place of those lost, Williams said he hopes the monument will provide some manner of peace and solace to families who know their loved one will be remembered.

“If it serves no other purpose, the rewards would be worthy of every effort that is made,” he said.

Parkersburg Gold Star Families Monument committee members, from left, local businessman Sam Winans; Andrew Stump, an Army veteran with the Parkersburg Area Labor Council; Mike Tucker, president/CEO of West Virginia Central Credit Union; Parkersburg City Councilman Zach Stanley, an Army veteran; Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams; Roy Trembly, with the Marine Corps Veterans Association; Marine Corps veteran Bernie Lyons; Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin, a Marine veteran; Vinnie Conley, with the PM Company; Buddy James, longtime Parkersburg High School football coach; and Marine veteran Jim “Murf” Murphy pose for a photo at the groundbreaking ceremony for the monument Tuesday in City Park. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

The monument is scheduled to be dedicated on June 10, said Bernie Lyons, a local Marine Corps veteran and member of the committee that was tasked with raising funds for the project.

Bryan Casey, with Williams’ foundation, said more than $35,000 has been donated to the project and contributions are still being accepted at the foundation’s website, hwwmohf.org. People can also contribute at the Market Street branch of United Bank.

“There’ve been really big donations and donations of $5,” Casey said.

The City of Parkersburg has assisted with surveys and engineering to prepare the site, which is located in the midst of other military monuments at the park.

“We will also help with construction as necessary and appropriate,” Mayor Tom Joyce said.

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, right, and West Virginia Gold Star Mothers, from left, Terry Souther Cunningham, Belinda Jividen, Vicki Matics, Emma Johnson and Shirley White turn the first ceremonial dirt at the groundbreaking for the Gold Star Families Monument Tuesday in Parkersburg City Park. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Approximately 200 people attended the groundbreaking, which featured “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the song “Mansions of the Lord” performed by the Blennerhassett Elementary School Choir, a cannon blast by the Carlin’s Battery Civil War re-enactors and a 21-gun salute by the American Legion Post 15 color guard.

Shirley White, president of the West Virginia Department of the American Gold Star Mothers organization, delivered remarks on behalf of Gold Star families. She was joined by four other Gold Star mothers, including Parkersburg native Terry Souther Cunningham, whose son, West Virginia Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Robert Cunningham, passed away in 2018; and Spencer resident Vicki Matics, whose son, Navy Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Joseph Ashley died in 2005.

“We want our children remembered,” said White, who lost two sons, Robert and Andrew, who served in the military.

Earlier in the day, Williams visited Belpre Elementary School, where Principal Joy Edgell said he spoke about patriotism, courage and hope.

“His message was ‘You are our future, and your name is so important,'” she said. “‘Think about your reputation and always fight for freedom.'”

Sharon Shoop, left, directs the Blennerhassett Elementary School Choir as they perform “Mansions of the Lord” Tuesday during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Gold Star Families Monument at Parkersburg City Park. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Edgell said Williams engaged with students and left us a Medal of Honor book for the library so students can do more research.

“He is a living piece of history that our students were honored to talk with and learn about,” she said.

Approximately 200 people attended Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Gold Star Families Monument at Parkersburg City Park. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, right, shakes the hand of fellow World War II veteran Robert Miller Tuesday at Belpre Elementary School, where Miller’s grandson, Johnny, is a student. Williams spoke to students about patriotism, courage and hope. (Photo Provided)

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