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Havre de Grace Considering New Monument for Gold Star Families

Aug. 31, 2016 

Record Staff | The Ægis/Baltimore Sun

A seed has been planted for Havre de Grace to get another memorial monument. 

The Havre de Grace City Council voted unanimously at its most recent meeting to have Mayor Bill Martin proceed with a search for a proper location in the city for a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument. "I think this is a great thing," Martin said. The memorials pay homage to Gold Star Families, those who have had a member die in service to the United States.

Johnny Boker and Craig Reeling, two Havre de Grace residents actively involved in veterans affairs, made a presentation on the proposed memorial monument, which is part of a national movement, during the Oct. 3 council meeting.

A Havre de Grace monument would be the second in Maryland – Annapolis has the first – and one of only a few nationwide. 

The City Council passed a resolution giving the mayor permission to start researching locations around Havre de Grace and report back for council approval for its location. 

No timeline for either when the money might be raised or when the memorial might be erected was given. 

Donations are being sought to pay for the monument; the city is not paying for it. "What is the ultimate fundraising target?" Councilman Michael Hitchings asked during the presentation.

"In the neighborhood of $55,000 to $60,000," Reeling, commandant of the Department of Maryland Marine Corps League, said. 

Boker, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last spring, is chairman of the Veterans Commission of Harford County and a retired non-commissioned officer, who served in the Army for 22 years. 

The monument will have four panels, Reeling said, showing a picture of the front of one of the memorials, including a striking cutout of a soldier that allows a view through and beyond the granite. 

Reeling said that represents each family's loss and their missing member who can't be replaced. 

The words on the front, which are the same on each monument erected, are: "Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Mothers, Fathers and Relatives who have sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom." 

Each of the four panels on the back of the monument is customized to each community and those it has lost. 

The Hershel "Woody" Williams Medal of Honor Foundation is behind the concept, Reeling said. He also told the story of the man behind the foundation. 

The group's web site tells the same story. 

"As a young boy on a dairy farm in West Virginia, Woody could never have imagined that a passion and vision would begin to develop because of the experiences he had as a young man. As a cab driver, his duties were to deliver Western Union telegram death notices to families that had lost a loved one in battle. This experience weighed heavy on Woody's heart through the years, while his dreams began to take shape. Now, years later, Woody's vision of honoring and paying tribute to these Gold Star Families for their sacrifice of one of their loved ones has become a reality." 

The mayor, who is a longtime teacher at Aberdeen Middle School, shared his experience as he talked about the importance of this monument. 

"Twice in my 18 years, I didn't teach the students," Martin said, "but two students lost a family member." 

The foundation wants to make sure those two with Aberdeen connections and all the others who have died are never forgotten. 

"The goals and objectives of the Hershel 'Woody' Williams Medal of Honor Foundation are to continue to nurture the seed that Woody has planted and bring his full vision to fruition through this project," according to the foundation's website. "Our projects currently include the promotion, creation and implementation of Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments throughout the country." 

The first was erected in Dunbar, W.Va. in 2013, followed by a second dedicated Sept. 21, 2014 in Valley Forge, Pa. Monuments also have been erected in Lafayette, Ind., Fairfield, Ohio, and Tampa, Fla., among other places. 

Havre de Grace's Tydings Park has a war memorial where Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies are held. 

Council members said it would be a striking addition to the city's memorials, parks and other attractions. They said having it placed where the cutout for the missing person looks out over the water would be very touching. 

"We're going to give a lot of thought to where we're going to put it," the mayor said.