Last Sunday’s dedication of the Gold Star Family Monument on the county’s courthouse grounds stood in stark contrast to the national conflict over the removal of monuments from public spaces and proved that the public still supports and benefits from memorials dedicated to those who sacrifice for our country and its principles. It was also a testament to the hard work of Maria Myers and Trish Slape, both Gold Star Mothers, that despite tremendous odds they could and did accomplish a goal that will stand the test of time and politics.
Hershel “Woody” Woolard, founder of the Gold Star Family Memorial Fund, a 98 year-old WWII veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, explained that the Gold Star program began in World War I to recognize and honor mothers who’d lost their sons in the war. The program was restarted in World War II.
Mr. Woolard explained that he felt that the program needed to recognize the sacrifice of the families as well. “You never had anyone say of the families of the fallen ‘he’s a gold star father or a gold star brother or sister,’” the retired Marine noted. Because of this absence of recognition he initiated the Gold Star Family Memorial program dedicated to honoring the families of those lost in service to the country.
Granted there were many others, including supporters such as Fred Harvey of Beaufort who helped in financial matters and guided the two grieving mothers, the sponsors and donors who generously gave over $75,000 to support the monument construction, and of course county officials who willing supported another monument for the courthouse grounds. But it was the determination of Mrs. Myers and Mrs. Slape that brought the monument to fruition.
Their commitment resulted from the loss of their sons who were killed while serving in the military at a time of war. Having experienced this massive lost in their lives, they recognized that many other families were grieving as they were and had no way of expressing or acknowledging the grief.
Mrs. Myers explained the genesis of her idea to establish the monument in Carteret County came after attending the state’s first monument dedication in Wilmington. She returned to her Beaufort home following that dedication telling her husband that she would have one established in her community.
Sunday’s dedication represented the 66th in the country and only the second one in the state according Mr. Williams.
But more than just the monument was on display last Sunday under a beautiful fall sky, as hundreds of residents and visitors stood to hear brief remarks about the dedication. There was cohesive and respectful acknowledgement that this memorial represented more than three polished black granite tablets with the profile of a saluting service member representing the fallen as the center piece. There was a palpable appreciation of a memorial dedicated to the families of the fallen.
The grit of the two grieving mothers and their respective families was also on display. Despite continued interruptions of their fund raising efforts caused by hurricanes, a national pandemic and political unrest centered around the public displays of monuments of all types, Mrs. Myers and Mrs. Slape persevered. And their efforts were rewarded with Sunday’s dedication.
We’re confident they would have traded that event and positive feeling for their sons lives as would their families. But at least this past Sunday the Myers and Slape families were given the opportunity to know their efforts both in life and in public service were not in vain.
Their commitment now leaves the county with a statement that the loss families have experienced in the past, present and sadly will in the future, shall not go unnoticed or under appreciated.
The impact of the dedication of the memorial can best be summarized by David Friedrich of Belhaven who attended the ceremony to spread some of the ashes of his 26-year-old son, U.S. Army Sgt. David Travis Friedrich who died in Iraq on the same day of the dedication – Sept. 20 - in 2003. “I’ve driven 85,000 miles and scattered his ashes in all 50 states. I’ve been to 40 of these monuments,” he told News-Times reporter Brad Rich.
As the country continues to be embroiled in political turmoil over monuments and public displays, it was a beautiful moment last Saturday to see a town, county and state stop long enough and acknowledge the sacrifice of not only the fallen but their families who have lost their dreams and are left with only memories.
The U.S. Marines have a term for this- Semper Fidelis. And we should remain “always faithful” to the fallen and to their families.