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A day to remember. Gold Star Family Memorial is unveiled in Albany

May 4, 2017

Letter to the Editor | Altamont Enterprise

To the Editor:

Saturday, April 29, was a historic day for the Capital District. At 10 a.m., in Albany’s LaFayette Park, the long overdue Gold Star Families Memorial Monument was unveiled and dedicated.

This beautiful monument is designed to acknowledge and recognize not only the ultimate sacrifice made by our fallen military service members, but the sacrifice and heartache their absence causes their surviving family members.

Achieving Gold Star Family Member status is not something anyone strives for, but it can happen in the blink of an eye to any Blue Star Family — families of those actively serving. Both groups, Gold Star and Blue Star Families, are deserving of recognition and support from their communities.

Congratulations to Carrie Farley, president of the State of New York American Gold Star Mothers, and to our area Gold Star Families, who, with the help of the Greater Capital District and the Tri-County Council of Vietnam Era Veterans, raised more than $75,000 in private funds and brought this project to fruition in a year’s time.

Saturday morning started early for a lot of people. At 4:30 a.m., I began picking up some of our local Iwo Jima survivors and a little before 6 a.m. we arrived at Christian Brothers Academy in Albany where we caught up with Hershel “Woody” Williams.

Woody is the last living Congressional Medal of Honor recipient from the battle of Iwo Jima. He is also the man who designed the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument. Woody’s Foundation is dedicated to erecting these monuments nationwide, and he tries to attend every dedication ceremony that he can. Watching this tireless Marine in action, one finds it hard to believe he is 93 years old.

Upon arrival at CBA, Woody and his fellow Marines — Tom Lemme, Tom Smith, Dick Varone, and George Ross — entered a packed gymnasium and surprised a large group of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans who were about to begin their Honor Flight to Washington, D.C..

Woody, an eloquent speaker, addressed the crowd, and then he and his comrades in arms greeted and shook the hands of the departing vets as they headed to their bus.

From CBA, we went to the Route 7 Diner, where they had reserved the entire back room for us. Our local Iwo survivors and Woody enjoyed breakfast and a nice quiet, one-on-one visit with each other. The rest of us sat awestruck as we contemplated the living history we sat with.

By 9 a.m., it was time for Woody to head to LaFayette Park, where he would take part in the dedication ceremony, giving another beautiful and heartfelt speech. Woody was also reunited with his old friend, fellow Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Francis S. Currey, one of our local heroes of World War II.

Earlier this year, Frank participated in a fundraiser that brought in more than $4,200, which was donated to the Gold Star Families Memorial construction fund. Frank is the last living World War II Congressional Medal of Honor recipient in all of New York State.

There are only five living recipients from World War II in the United States, so having two of them together in Albany was amazing. Both Frank and Woody were awarded their medals in 1945, and they have been friends longer than many of us have been alive, so it was wonderful for them to see each other.

Mark Yingling

Clifton Park