Md.’s first Gold Star Fam­i­lies Me­mo­rial Mon­u­ment pays trib­ute to fallen heroes

Maryland Independent - - News - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­ Twit­ter: @JClink_En­qGaz

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

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