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‘A symbol of something greater than us’: Gold Star Families Memorial dedicated in Princeton

Oct 25 2020
Greg Jordan | Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Memories of loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and the families who miss them were set in stone Saturday when a Gold Star Families Monument was dedicated with prayer, song and salutes in Princeton.

Erected near the Memorial Building and the Always Free Walk of Honor, the new monument honors preserves the memory of fallen military personnel who made the supreme sacrifice and the Gold Star Families who continue to endure their loss. Rain had been forecasted, but showers held off while the ceremony was underway.

Chad Graham, president of the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, welcomed the public and thanked local organizers who raised the necessary funding and had the monument built “remarkably fast.”

“It’s a symbol of something greater than us and a symbol that this community is not forgetting,” he said.

West Virginia’s motto, Mountaineers Are Always Free, is true, and that freedom came at a cost, Graham said. The public is committed to remembering the sacrifices made by Gold Star Families and the loved ones they have lost.

Dreama Denver, founder of both the Always Free Honor Flight, which provides veterans with free trips to Washington D.C. to see the monuments erected in their honor, and the Always Free Walk of Honor outside the Memorial Building, welcomed guests on behalf of Mercer County. She said it was the first time she had been out in public for seven months, so it was an honor to meet the local Gold Star Families.

Since the first Honor Flight tour left for the nation’s capital in 2012, hundreds of veterans had gone on the trip, Denver said. The Always Free Walk of Honor, which is made up of bricks bearing the names of veterans, helps raise funds for the program.

“Being next to the Gold Star Memorial is truly icing on the cake,” she said.

McDowell County Circuit Court Judge and Col. Edward Kornish, a 1978 West Point graduate, veteran and Mercer County native, spoke of the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice while he served in Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

“I’m really awed at the turnout and that’s a credit to you and your family and the sacrifices that they have made,” Kornish said. “As you well know, West Virginians are very patriotic. We serve in times of war in greater numbers per capita than any other state, and we serve as we live and as we were raised. We serve honorably, courageously and quietly.”

“To all Gold Star Families, your families have made the ultimate sacrifice by sharing a family member in the service of our nation,” he said, adding that it is said in the Bible that there is no greater love than somebody laying down one’s life for one’s friends.

“We gather here today to recognize your sacrifice and to remind you that we know you will never forget and to remind you that we will never forget,” Kornish said.

Singer Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. winner on the show “America’s Got Talent” in 2011, sang “Country Roads” despite some sudden trouble with the sound system. Undeterred and smiling, Murphy sang West Virginia’s song as the audience clapped hands and sang along. Some members of the audience saw divine intervention in the technical hiccup.

“He done that so we could sing along!” one veteran called out to Murphy.

“That’s the power of God,” Murphy replied.

The dedication’s keynote speaker was Hershel “Woody” Williams, a World War II veteran who became a recipient of the Medal of Honor after the Battle of Iwo Jima.

“This has been quite a morning,” Woods said, glancing at the cloudy sky. “The Lord has blessed us by stopping the rain; and it’s amazing that in all of the dedications that we have had, the groundbreakings that we have had throughout America, we’ve never been rained out. We’ve never had to postpone because of the weather. And that is divine intervention as far as I am concerned, and I think we’ll get divine intervention here again today.”

Williams looked at the Gold Star Families seated in the front row.

“This is not about me. It’s about them. They are the reason we are here. Without their sacrifice and the loss of their loved ones, we wouldn’t be here this morning,” he said. “The last figure I was told or the last number I was told was the sacrifices of West Virginia. The number was 11,477. West Virginia’s a proud place, a proud state, a proud people, and when the call rises that they need their services, West Virginians have always been there.”

Williams called County Commissioner Bill Archer and Sharon Bowling, both members of of Gold Star Families Memorial Monument Committee, to come forward and appointed them honorary board members of the Hershel “Woody” Williams Foundation. Other members of the committee included Donna Blankenship, Bill Blankenship, the Rev. Earl Rogers, Jeremiah Murphy and County Administrator Vicky Reed.

“This is a new day, a new beginning for the Gold Star Families in this community,” Williams stated. “And for this community itself, history is being made which will have a lasting effect for the lives of untold Americans. You see, this monument is going to be here from now on. It’s not going to go away. It’s going to recognize those of the past and the present and the future. Unfortunately, we’re still in a war. We’re still losing loved ones. I know that it is the prayer of every Christian in this audience that wars will cease, that they won’t have to make those sacrifices that have been made to keep us a free America, to keep us a free people.”

The Gold Star Families were the first to see the monument when it was unveiled. Besides the monument itself, marble benches around it bear the names of the veterans. One bench is in memory of Fire Controlman First Class Bernard Ramon Wimmer of the United States Navy. Wimmer was killed in action while performing his fire control duties aboard the battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7,1941.

Wimmer’s sister, Betty Snider of the Speedway area, attended the dedication ceremony along with other members of her family.

“It’s just unbelievable,” she said later. The identity of her brother’s remains were confirmed on Oct. 13 this year, and now there is a monument in his memory and the memory of other veterans like him.

“He had lot of friends,” she recalled. “He had lots of friends in the Navy before he died.”

Wimmer’s great-great nephew, Mason Snider, led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Another member of a Gold Star Family, the Rev. Earl Rogers of Rock Baptist Church, participated in the dedication by giving the invocation. His brother, Spec. 5 Phillip Rogers, U.S. Army, made the supreme sacrifice on June 25, 1968 on the north bank of the Vam Co Tay River in Vietnam. Another brother, Alonsa Rogers, was a demolitions expert in the Special Forces. Serving five tours of duty in Vietnam, he later died from exposure to the chemical Agent Orange.

“It helps us in the grief process,” the Rev. Rogers said of the new monument. “You know that others recognize the sacrifices that we made.”