Md.’s first Gold Star Families Memorial Monument pays tribute to fallen heroes
Hundreds of families, elected officials and com- munity partners gathered Friday in Annapolis for an unveiling of the new Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute dedicated to those who have lost and sacrificed a loved one for the nation’s freedom.
The monument, located near the Maryland World War II Memorial/Scenic Overlook, features two sides with scenes on each panel. One side bears the verbiage, “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument,” while the other side tells a story through four granite panels — homeland, family, patriot and sacrifice.
The monument’s most distinct feature, located at the center, is a cutout that represents the loved one who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom, according to the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Founda- tion’s website.
The purpose of the monument is to not only honor Gold Star Families, but also preserve the memory of the fallen and stand as a stark reminder that freedom is not free.
“I think it’s special,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Glynn E. Parker, who served in active duty for 27 years, in an inter- view. “This is the capital of the state. I don’t think it could’ve been in a bet- ter place and on Veterans Day. I haven’t seen any- thing like this — mothers and fathers and militants that you see on the memorial itself. If you can give people that’s lost somebody, some family members something, this is something you can give them. They’ll always remember it.”
Parker, a Disabled American Veterans mem- ber and commissioner for the Charlotte Hall Veter- ans Home in St. Mary’s County, said the event isn’t just about honoring the sacrifice of men and women who served. Rather, it’s an opportunity to be around other veterans and encourage them to keep fighting through life’s battles — something Parker can relate to as a veteran.
“That’s what we do it for,” he said. “Most people don’t realize this nation is being looked at all the time. There’s always enemies that would like to take us down. But we’ve gotta remain strong.”
When it comes to strength, American Gold Star Mothers Inc. Maryland chapter member Rosemarie Ceo said she still has a hard time deal- ing with the loss of her loved one.
Ceo’s youngest son, 23-year-old Cpl. Bernard L. Ceo, was killed in Iraq in 2005 when his convoy caught fire and exploded following a devastating crash. Bernard died in the line of the duty with two other soldiers.
“I know it’s been some years but it’s still very, very emotional for me,” said Ceo, whose son was honored at another memorial tribute last Sat- urday near the Towson courthouse. “I remember distinctly saying to him, ‘Bernard, nobody joins the military in wartime.’ And he said, ‘Mom, somebody’s gotta do it.’ So I knew at that time there was no holding him back. He wanted to serve his country and that’s what he did. It’s bittersweet, it’s bittersweet.”
Unfortunately for Ceo, the emotional rollercoast- er didn’t stop there.
Ceo, who also has two older sons, said it’s been a very traumatic year for her as she lost everything when her house burned down in January. The Bal- timore resident is praying to be back in her home by Christmas.
“The significance of that is that my son died in a fire,” she said. “The last 10 years have been very trying for me. I think about my son every day. … The tears that I cry [are] the tears of missing him. But they’re also tears of joy because of the legacy he had left me.”
“This monument means that we’re not forgotten and that they’re doing everything in their power to try and ease our pain,” Ceo continued. “And to show that they really do care for the families, for the mothers. I know everyone keeps saying the mothers, but we carried them for nine months so it’s very [personal] for us. To have this on Veterans Day shows that they did everything just to fulfill what we wanted. It’s very significant. It makes me feel good.”
Established in 1928 and chartered by U.S. Congress in 1984, American Gold Star Mothers is an organization of mothers who continue to honor their fallen sons and daughters through service to veterans and patriotic events. Almost all chapters throughout the country give many hours of volunteer work and personal service in all hospitals for veterans, as well as to the veterans and their families in their community, according to the organization’s website.
The organization also works closely with all veterans’ organizations and is a member of the Veterans Administration Voluntary Service’s advisory board.
“We are just so elated. We finally have a memori- al that is going to be a vi- sual reminder, to all who come to visit, that there is a family member attached to every fallen hero,” said Maryland chapter presi- dent and chaplain Janice Chance. “Not only did our children sacrifice [their lives], but we sacrificed. Now we have to continue our life, our journey, without our loved ones. Thank God we have those trea- sured memories that’s always in our hearts but people tend to forget the families.”
Chance said she is grateful for Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams — the last surviving World War II veteran from the Battle of Iwo Jima — whose vi- sion helped promote, create and implement Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments throughout the countr y.
Now, years later, Williams’s vision of honoring and paying tribute to Gold Star Families has become a reality. To date, there are 13 monuments which have been dedicated with 39 additional projects in progress, representing a total of 29 states, according to his foundation’s website.
“It’s so important to me that it’s going to be here in Annapolis,” Chance said. “A lot of the memorials are in veterans cem- eteries, but this is located right adjacent to World War II Memorial. … As I look around, this is like a circle of peace. Parents and all the relatives can come to reflect, remem- ber, probably shed some tears and also to celebrate the life of their loved one. They will forever live in our hearts.”
“This is an absolutely historic event for the state of Maryland,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary George W. Owings III. “It’s very important to me because I have sever- al friends’ names, former comrades of mine, on the wall in Washington, D.C. … This signifies how the State of Maryland feels about the heroes we’ve lost to war, in honoring the Gold Star Families.”
One of the non-profit or- ganizations that American Gold Star Mothers works closely with is Truckin 4 Troops — based in Crownsville — which supports and serves wounded troops by getting them and their families out of the hospital for well-needed rehabilitation.
“It’s a really beautiful thing what they’re doing for the Gold Star moms,” Truckin 4 Troops founder and president Scott Mallary said. “I get a lot of joy out of it — not only us getting joy, but they get a lot of joy coming out to our events. We work with wounded veterans and they get to participate in that. It’s pretty humbling.”
“It’s just fantastic,” said retired U.S. Navy vet Robert C. Leib, special assistant to Anne Arundel County’s executive. “Gold Star mothers are the heart of the service, I think. To have it coincide with Veterans Day just makes it that much more important. And in Annapolis, which is in many ways the heart of the United States Navy, even makes it better.”
For Leib, service runs in the family. His father not only served in the Army, but his brother and brother-in-law both served in the Air Force as well. Leib’s cousin also served in the Navy.
“The country has made my life possible. The opportunities for myself and my family — all of us,” he said. “It just means a lot to be able to have served.”
“One of the things that we tend to forget is that families suffer when we lose our lives in battle,” said retired U.S. Army Sgt. Gary Simpson, a Vietnam veteran who served from 1967 to 1968. “Even those who’ve come back with mental scars and physical scars, our families are so important to us. Families deserve all the recognition they can get. We don’t survive without them.”
Simpson, a father four, said if he had opportunity to serve country again, he’d right there.
Having a dedication ceremony on Veterans Day is fitting as there is no better day to honor Gold Star Families who have lost and sacrificed a loved one for this country’s freedom, Simpson said.
“We’re just excited to honor Gold Star Families,” said Chase Savage, a member of Operation Second Chance’s advisory board who helped bring the project to Maryland. “It’s the first monument in the state that recognizes them and their sacrifice. Veterans Day is obviously important but to me, Gold Star Families’ sacrifice is everyday; not just one day of the year. We’re happy to do it.” of the his be