CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An empty concrete slab stands on the grounds of the West Virginia State Capitol complex, well landscaped and professional lighting installed. Everything is there, except for the center piece of the display.
The vacant spot is slated to become the permanent home of West Virginia’s Gold Star Families Monument.
First envisioned by West Virginia Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, the monuments have been installed at veterans cemeteries, courthouses, and state capitols all across the United States. Williams has a dream to have them installed in all 50 states as a tribute to the families of service men killed in action defending the country. His dream for West Virginia’s state capitol memorial was that it be bigger than any other.
“It’s 12 feet tall, so it’s twice as tall as any other one,” said Jerry Beckett with the committee to erect the monument on the Capitol grounds in Charleston.
Ground was broken for the West Virginia project July 27, 2019.
“They are sending a message to the families of those who have sacrificed a loved one for us and our freedom, that they are being recognized, appreciated and honored for the very first time in America’s history,” Williams said at the ceremony.
The project has hit a couple of bumps along the way. The original plans was to have it installed last October on the occasion of Williams’ 96th birthday. Initially there was difficulty securing and the marble from where it is quarried in India, which pushed the dedication to June of 2020. Eventually the was delivered to an Atlanta firm which polishes and etches the stone with various words and designs. Then came COVID-19.
“The last project we had going was choosing the images to go on the monument, because this thing is forever and it’s going to outlive our grandchildren. We want it right when it comes out,” Beckett said.
Due to the virus, the June dedication had to be scrubbed. According to Beckett, the site is ready and the monument will soon be ready. The only thing they don’t have is a date.
“It’s ready to be set. The landscaping is done, the lighting is done, the foundation and pad has been poured. All we’re waiting on is a date to install and dedicate it, “he said.
The first monument was built in 2013 at the Donel C. Kinnard State Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Institute.