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Augusta County School Board votes 5-0 in favor of memorial for Gold Star families

Jun 08 2019
Daily Progress

VERONA — Augusta County School Board members agreed Thursday to allow another monument to be placed on school property at the Wilson Workforce & Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville.

The school board voted 5-0 to approve a proposal from the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation to erect a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument honoring the families of service men and women who sacrificed their lives while serving in the military.

According to the foundation’s website, 47 monuments have been erected in 42 states, and 61 more are planned.

The names of loved ones lost from the Shenandoah Valley will be engraved onto the monument at WWRC.

In Augusta County School Board Chairman Tim Swortzel’s absence, Vice Chairman Nicholas T. Collins lead Thursday’s meeting.

“The next item is very appropriate for this day,” said Collins, referring to the board’s meeting agenda items and the fact that Thursday’s meeting was held on D-Day.

On June 6, 1945, United States and Allied troops landed on Normandy Beach, France. The invasion would signal the beginning of the end of World War II.

“Our committee will raise the money for the monument,” said Jerry Dumont, chairman of the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument Committee and Honorary Board Member of the foundation.

Several ways exist to raise funds to build the monument, Dumont said, the total cost of which will be $45,000. Another $40,000 will be needed for site work, landscaping, flags, benches and other details.

Dumont said that for the Shenandoah Valley’s monument the committee will sell bricks to community members to honor all servicemen and women of all military branches, living and dead.

The Shenandoah Valley Gold Star Families Memorial Monument will be 16 feet wide and 8 feet tall, and stand in Fishersville on the Wilson Workforce & Rehabilitation Center campus, near a monument erected in May 2016 dedicated to the men and women who served at the Woodrow Wilson General Hospital during World War II.

During World War II, the hospital helped rehabilitate soldiers who fought in the conflict overseas.

Years later, the buildings that were the hospital became property of Augusta County Public Schools and now house the Valley Career & Technical Center, the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, Wilson Elementary School, Wilson Middle School and Wilson Memorial High School.

“The site that was shown earlier is actually ideal,” Dumont said of a photo shown to the school board of the WWRC campus and where the Gold Star monument would be erected.

The monument will be made of black granite with a cut out of a missing soldier.

The closest Gold Star Family Monument is in Bedford, Virginia.

Augusta County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Eric W. Bond said he originally heard about the project in his role as a member of the Board of Trustees at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton.

The original plan was to build the monument at the museum, but “there on the post next to our current memorial [at Fishersville] seemed to make a lot of sense,” said Bond.

“I think I and staff are fully behind this, as well as Frontier Culture Museum,” Bond said before asking for a motion to approve the project.

School board member Dr. John Ocheltree asked if the monument would include only World War II servicemen and women. Dumont said the monument would include servicemen and women lost who were from all over the Valley and who served in all conflicts.

School board member John M. Ward, who said his foster daughter died in Afghanistan while serving in the military, began to choke up with emotion as he made a motion for the school board to approve the project.

Board member David R. Shiflett seconded the motion, and the motion was approved 5-0. Swortzel and board member Tim R. Quillen were absent from Thursday’s meeting.

Robert Ham, a member of the foundation’s committee, is masonry instructor at the Valley Career & Technical Center, which is across the street from where the monument will be built. He said he knew the school board would support the monument.

“I knew your hearts, and I thank you,” said Ham.

Bond added that Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, was chairman of the Gold Star subcommittee of the Board of Trustees at the Frontier Culture Museum, and Bell also supports construction of the monument in Fishersville.

Benny Whitesell, a member of the foundation’s committee, is vice commander of the American Legion Post no. 13 in Staunton, and served in the Vietnam War. He thanked the board for its support.

The foundation’s namesake lives in West Virginia. Williams, 95, served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. Before joining the Marines, Dumont said Williams drove a taxi in his hometown in West Virginia, and delivered Western Union telegraph notices to families who had lost loved ones in the conflict overseas. The families Williams notified would become Gold Star Families.

Williams, one of only three Medal of Honor recipients from World War II alive today, was present at the Battle of Iwo Jima, when the raising of the American flag was made famous through photography and later a monument in Arlington.

Dumont said Williams began the foundation six years ago with the goal of building a monument in each of the United States.

In a video the committee showed the school board, Williams said: “I am anything but a hero. I really am not. I’ve never been able to explain adequately a hero. I have always advocated that the heroes are those who paid the final sacrifice with their life.”

A timeline for the monument in Fishersville, Dumont said, would include a groundbreaking on Aug. 14, which is Victory over Japan Day, the date Japan surrendered to the Allies and ended World War II. The hope would be to hold a dedication on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2019.