In Gettysburg, Penn., in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln dedicated a cemetery that was once a battlefield by delivering an address that would be one of his finest.
“The world will little note, not long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here,” Lincoln said. “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
In Fishers on Memorial Day 2021, the city unveiled a monument to honor those who were left behind when their loved one gave, what Abraham Lincoln in his “Gettysburg Address” called, “the last full measure of devotion” to their nation.
The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument was unveiled by Mayor Scott Fadness on the southern plaza in front of City Hall at 1 Municipal Dr. but dedicated and consecrated by yellow carnations from Gold Star families who have lost loved ones in military service.
Brig. Gen. Timothy Winslow, director of the Joint Staff for the Indiana National Guard, spoke during the ceremony.
“Because the families don’t wear the uniform, sometimes they are overlooked, but today we bridge that gap,” an emotional Winslow said. “With this monument, we can now look to the families and tell them, ‘Thank you for your service.”
A procession of Gold Star families placed flowers at the base of the monument before a crowd or emotional attendees.
“There are few things that make me tear up, but that was one of the things that does,” said U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), who represents the 5th District. “When I think about all of the people that died for this republic and the freedoms we have and how difficult it is for the families, I’m so happy to see how the city is remembering the people who actually died and the families. The loss is forever for them.”
Even though he has attended many memorial events on behalf of the City of Fishers, the moment was not lost on Fadness, either.
“Every time we do one of these events where we try to honor those individuals who have sacrificed so much, whether it’s our Vietnam Commemoration Day or an event like this, where we celebrate and honor the families who have lost so much, it’s really very touching,” Fadness said. “You can’t stand there and look someone in the eye and see the pain that they have gone through and not be moved by that.”
The recognition of Gold Star families began during World War I, when those with sons or husbands in the military placed a flag in their window with a blue star on a white background. If the loved one died in combat, the star became gold.
A large, gleaming gold star adorns the front of the Fishers monument, along with a cutout silhouette of a serviceman saluting, along with the gold-etched words, “A tribute to Gold Star families and relatives who sacrificed a loved one for our freedom.” The monument was made by the Louisville-based Woody Williams Foundation.
The foundation has installed a combined 85 monuments in all 50 states and Guam. The front of each monument is the same but the reverse side is personalized for each community.
“When you get to the back side, there are the four panels with the narrative of ‘homeland, family, patriotism and sacrifice.’ The communities themselves get to personalize those panels with images to reflect their community,” said Alex Nauert, Woody Williams Foundation director of programs.
The Fishers’ Gold Star monument is personalized with an aerial view of Fishers city government square on the homeland panel; silhouettes of families of different ages against an American star-spangled backdrop on the family panel; the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima for the patriot panel; and two scenes of a fallen soldier’s funeral for the sacrifice panel.
According to Nauert, it takes 12 to 18 months to proceed from initial discussions to monument unveiling. The project cost is approximately $60,000.
Fishers began its path to installing the 85th Gold Star Families Memorial Monument by way of a conversation over coffee.
“The journey began with Brad Dereamer being the mayor of Greenfield,” said retired U.S. Navy Commander El Ahlwardt, who emceed the ceremony. “He had a veterans park (there), and after his term as mayor was completed, he moved to Fishers, and he wanted to do something here that was kind of like what Greenfield had. Last October or November, he, George Stavropoulos (who received a Silver Star and multiple Purple Hearts) and Mayor Fadness had coffee.
“Brad said, ‘Mayor, we have to have something.’ Brad wanted to do this (monument) and he wanted to honor families, and the mayor said he would back it.”
The city used discretionary funds to pay for the project, and fundraising is under way to repay the city. Ahlwardt said that the City of Fishers Parks Foundation has raised 80 percent of the funds needed. Donations can be made at fishers.in.us/GoldStar.
The Woody Williams Foundations
The nonprofit Woody Williams Foundation launched in 2014, but according to Director of Programs Alex Nauert, “Historically, it actually started when (Hershel “Woody” Williams) was a taxicab driver (in his native West Virginia) delivering telegrams to families that had lost their loved ones.”
Williams, inspired by the emotions of those deliveries, joined the Marine Corps, earning the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Despite not using a flamethrower before he was given one to clear out pill boxes where Japanese troops were firing on the Marines, Williams cleared out three of them, having to run back and forth to reload. He then continued in the battle with his regular firearm before being wounded. He could not see the flag being raised over the battlefield toward the end of the fighting, but he could tell something special was happening when he heard his fellow Marines cheering.
Williams is 97 years old and is the lone surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient.