Gold Star families honored at memorial unveiling
Project to pay tribute to families who have sacrificed, lost a loved one in the Armed Forces
Paying tribute to and honoring those families who have lost a loved one in the military, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams and the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, in cooperation with Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the state of Maryland and the Gold Star Mothers Maryland Chapter, held a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 15 for the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at the Maryland World War II Memorial/Scenic Overlook in Annapolis.
More than 50 families, community and state representatives attended the ceremony which included Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R), Secretary of Veterans Affairs George W. Owings III, Gold Star Mothers Maryland Chapter President and Chaplain Janice Chance, members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 122, Operation Second Chance Veterans Advisory Board Member Chase Savage and Brant Sports Group LLC President Dennis Brant, both of whom are honorary board members/ advisors of the foundation.
“This is another one of those [occasions where] communities come together for a single purpose of honoring those families that we have failed to honor in our history,” said 92-yearold Williams, the last surviving World War II veteran from the Battle of Iwo Jima who received his Medal of Honor in 1945. “We do a pretty good job of honoring veterans [with] memorials and parades and that sort of thing, as we should — we certainly should never forget that. But the families who gave more than we did … it was those folks who made the sacrifice so that we can stay free. So we owe a great deal of not only honor, but gratitude and all that we can do so that we will not forget those who didn’t fail us.”
Established in 2012, Williams’ Medal of Honor Foundation is a charitable nonprofit organization that encourages establish- ing permanent Gold Star Family Memorial Monuments to honor families who have sacrificed a loved one in the service of their country. Its specific objectives are centered around six core values including courage, citizenship, sacrifice, integrity, patriotism and commitment, according to the foundation’s website.
“We’ve been through this before and we’ll survive and we’ll come out on top. America always has,” Williams said. “Just the mere fact that I can be a part of this is very humbling because all that we do and everything we hope to accomplish is certainly not for me, as a Medal of Honor recipient. But everything we do ought to be centered toward those families … who grieves.”
“Their family members made the ultimate sacrifice and so we want to respect them and respect what their families have done for us,” Rutherford said. “This memorial will be a place to reflect. It will be a reminder of the immeasurable cost of war and a reminder of the immense price of freedom.”
For families like Thomas and Virginia Feeks of Edgewater, the event came just one day before the fourth anniversary of their son’s death. Their oldest son, 28-year-old Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Patrick D. Feeks, a U.S. Navy SEAL member, was among seven other Americans killed Aug. 16, 2012, in a helicopter crash northeast of Kandahar, Afghan- istan.
The City of Annapolis dedicated the Rowe Boulevard Bridge over Weems Creek to the fallen serviceman just two years ago.
“It’s been a hard four years,” said Feeks’ father, a retired Navy captain who now works in the internal review office for the Naval Academy Business Services Division. “One of the biggest fears you have as a parent is that your son will be forgotten. He didn’t have a chance to live a long life and have a lot of grandchildren and all of that. So things like these memorials become very important to the families as we understand that people aren’t going to forget the sacrifices that these men and women have made.”
Thomas Feeks said the Annapolis and Navy SEAL communities have been very supportive. Being around other Gold Star Families is the best medicine he and his family, as well as others, can have, he said.
“The bond that the Gold Star Families have is immeasurable. You just can’t put a price on it,” he said. “If we had to be in this boat, this is the best group of people to be in because their sons and daughters have made the same sacrifice and it’s just a real understanding.”
The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument — made up of four panels with artwork separated in scenes and a cutout of a missing soldier symbolizing sacrifice of life for peace and freedom — illustrates that America has citizens in every community willing to make such sacrifices. The four scenes include depictions of the USA as the fallen heroes’ homeland; a father, mother and newborn baby representing their families; youth who volunteer to serve, protect and give others freedom; and families grieving the loss of their loved ones, according to an explanation sheet from the foundation’s website.
When it comes to serving and healing together, the Gold Star Mothers Maryland Chapter — founded in 2007 by the late Carol Roddy — knows all about the value of challenging fate and promoting love for country. Its mission lies in finding strength in the fellowship of other Gold Star Mothers who strive to keep the memory of their sons and daughters alive by working to help veterans, those currently serving in the military, their families and the community, the chapter’s website noted.
“A project of this magnitude does not happen without dedication, commitment and teamwork,” Chance said. “Every hero that has made a sacrifice is connected to a family.”
Chance’s son, 29-year-old U.S. Marine Corps Captain Jesse Melton III, was killed on Sept. 9, 2008, while supporting combat operations during the Battle of Afghanya in Afghanistan’s Parwan Province.
Although Melton didn’t finish his assignment, Chance said she is convinced that her son, who served for 11 years, finished his earthly mission— to change the world and make a difference by sacrificing his life.
“His dream is continually fulfilled by me because it was his demise that resulted in me becoming a member of the American Gold Star Mothers,” Chance said. “Simply put, we honor through service just like our children did. We carry on their legacy. I thank God for Gold Star Mothers.”
“It means a lot to me and I want this to happen because I know the Gold Star Families want it,” said Savage, a retired Marine Corps veteran who lost part of his arm after being wounded in 2004 by a roadside bomb. “I get a lot of satisfaction just being around these families. They’re inspirational to me.”
Savage said he is excited to be a part of the project and hopes a dedication ceremony will take place within a few months, as more money still needs to be raised. But thanks to the help and tremendous support of so many people, the monument is well on its way, he said.
“Helping to do events for the Gold Star Families, I see how much of a healing process it is for them to interact. It’s just such a great thing to see,” he said. “A lot of the mothers associate me as their adopted son. It’s an honor to be in that same category as their lost loved one.”
Gold Star Maryland Chapter President and Chaplain Janice Chance, center, smiles as she stands next to Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford during a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 15 for the Gold...