Gold Star fam­i­lies hon­ored at memo­rial un­veil­ing

Project to pay trib­ute to fam­i­lies who have sac­ri­ficed, lost a loved one in the Armed Forces

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @JClink_En­qGaz

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.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES

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...

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