SIERRA VISTA — Sierra Vista has joined the ranks of locations where Gold Star families are “ … surrounded by love and honor,” in the words of Arizona U.S. Sen. Martha McSally.
On Saturday, local dignitaries, Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams and other prominent military and civilian officials gathered at the Southern Arizona Memorial Veterans Cemetery to celebrate the unveiling of a monument honoring Gold Star families.
“This is not about me, it’s about them,” said Williams, 96, who earned distinction serving as a Marine in Iwo Jima during World War II. “We’re gathered here today to do something that we as a country have not done and should have done a long time ago.”
The black-granite, 14-foot-long monument features a life-size cutout of a saluting soldier and is flanked by massive stone panels that honor the homeland, family, patriotism and sacrifice of Gold Star families.
Heather Hocker, a Gold Star mother, directed the effort to raise $65,000 for the purchase and placement of the monument. Hocker’s son, Joel, died in a 2011 automobile accident while in service to the Army. She said the memorial is a source of comfort and peace for those who are living with the loss of a family member.
“There’s no greater gift you can give the parent of a fallen soldier than to let them know that you remember,” Hocker told an audience numbering more than 300 during the dedication ceremony.
The Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation honors Gold Star families, relatives and children by building Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments throughout the United States. Sierra Vista is now one of 65 locations in 43 states where a monument has been constructed. Another 63 locations are “ … in progress,” Williams said.
“Eventually, we’re going to get them all, we’re going to get them in all 50 states,” he said.
Sen. McSally said the monument was an example of the community coming together in support of Gold Star Mothers and veterans.
“Once again, Sierra Vista is setting an example for other communities around the state and throughout the nation,” she said.
The senator said she was honored to be in the presence of a World War II Medal of Honor winner, and “loved” how the community has come together to support Gold Star families.
Randy Huston, a rancher from northeast New Mexico and performer at the Arizona Folklore Preserve in Hereford, performed “The Hands That Held the Child” at the close of the hour-long ceremony. Huston said he wrote the song to honor Gold Star mothers and families.
Hocker, the founder and president of the Gold Star Mothers of Cochise County, said it took just under a year to raise the funds needed to build the monument. A groundbreaking ceremony was held May 4 at the local veterans cemetery. Several local organizations and individuals donated thousands of dollars towards the project, including the Sierra Vista VFW, the Sierra Vista Elks Lodge, and Larry McKim, vice-chairman of the Great Sierra Vista United Veterans Council and a member of the Gold Star Family Monument Committee. Rutherford Diversified Industries donated significant equipment and manpower in the construction of the monument.
Those who donated $100 or more received a “challenge coin,” and donors who gave $1,000 or more have their name placed on a permanent plaque located near the monument.