HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - In all his experience meeting and talking with families of fallen soldiers, Brent Casey has learned that their biggest fear is that their hero will be forgotten.
If his grandfather, Medal of Honor winner Woody Williams, can help it, that won’t happen, and even families whose soldiers could never be brought home for burial will have a place to visit and honor them.
Williams has founded the Gold Star Families program to create granite monuments for the families of those soldiers who could not be brought home. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, at Guyan Golf and Country Club, the Huntington Cabell Republican Women are hosting a nonpartisan dinner to raise funds for the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation to fund the project. Williams, a World War II veteran who served at Iwo Jima and resides in Ona, will be keynote speaker at the event.
“He’s our treasure in West Virginia because, really, there’s not that many (World War II Veterans) left, and we’re hoping we can get as many people as possible there to raise him money to put one of these monuments in Huntington,” said Charlotte Poole Clark, a member of the Huntington Cabell Republican Women.
The cost of the dinner is $40. To secure a reservation, send a check to HCRW 10 Kensington Lane Huntington WV 25705.
Guests are invited despite their political views, she said. It’s a patriotic event for all proud Americans.
Williams said he knew he had to do something for families when he was speaking to a group and recognized the Gold Star Mothers, but after the meeting a father came up with tears in his eyes and said, “Dads cry too.”
“He had just lost a son in Iraq,” Williams said. “The mother had died of cancer shortly before the son went into the military. He was the only child they had. … I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something to recognize families, rather than just moms.’”
Casey, who is helping with the foundation on behalf of his grandfather, said he’s thrilled the women are hosting the dinner for the cause. Each monument costs in the neighborhood of $35,000, and Williams would love to have at least one in each state. There already are six, including one at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Institute, West Virginia, and another in Mason County. Out of state, there are Gold Star Families monuments in Lafayette, Indiana; Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Fairfield, Ohio; and Tampa, Florida. Others are planned in Kentucky, Mississippi, California and elsewhere. A group is actively planning and raising funds for a monument at the Memorial Arch in Ritter Park, Williams said.
“It’s far beyond my dream, really,” Williams said. “It’s something the country neglected to do. I don’t think it was purposely. It is something that should have been done a long time ago.”
The monuments are made of granite, and are about 15 feet wide and 6 feet tall at the peak. Designed with the help of an architect, they feature the outline of a soldier and are sized true to life. Each monument in every state is tailored to the community it’s in, Casey said.
“We’re really excited about (the fundraising dinner) and humbled and honored that they would choose to honor Woody and his foundation and Gold Star Foundation,” Casey said.
There are now 12 monuments in the planning and design stages, Casey said.
“We’re hoping to have at least one in all 50 states in the next four years,” he said. “It’s to honor all the family and relatives of the soldier or marine who did not come home, not just from combat but military service period. … That’s what we’re trying to do, to make a difference as far as that goes. These families have given one of their own for the freedoms we enjoy every day.”
Williams and the board members of his foundation want the monuments to be a “place of peace and solitude and remembrance,” Casey said. “We’ve been doing this a year and a half, and it has been incredibly emotional for all of us. He’s 91, but we travel around the country, and I go just about everywhere with him.”
To learn more about the Hershel Woody Williams Foundation and the Gold Star Families project, visit https://www.hwwmohfoundation.org.
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, https://www.herald-dispatch.com
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