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Gold Star Families Monument Project Breaks Ground

Nov. 21, 2016 

Hank Hayes | Times News

KINGSPORT — Brenda Shelton got to talk about her lost baby on Monday.

Shelton, a Gold Star mom, shared the story of her late son Ben White during a ceremonial groundbreaking for the planned Gold Star Families Monument to be erected next to the Kingsport Veterans Memorial.

The monument is for family members of military members who have sacrifice their lives for U.S. freedom.

White, a U.S. Air Force senior airman, was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 9, 2010, during a rescue mission.

“They completed the mission, but the helicopter my son and the rest of the men were on was shot down,” Shelton shared with a small gathering. “Five of the seven crew members lost their lives. Ben was my baby. He was full of life. He loved God and his country.

“One of the greatest fears to me or any mother ... is they will be forgotten by the rest of the world. To hear their name continue to be mentioned is the greatest gift you could give to a family member who has lost a loved one.”

The idea for the Kingsport monument, scheduled to be the second one in Tennessee, was hatched during a Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Kingsport Medal of Honor luncheon held last September.

Battle of Iwo Jimo veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams’ Foundation pledged $5,000. BAE Systems, the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council (TC-MAC), the city of Kingsport and chamber also are backing the project, which has raised about $28,000 toward the $50,000 expense.

“The monument is black granite from India,” said Foundation Executive Director Brent Casey, who is Williams’ grandson. “It comes to Elbarton, Ga., known as the granite capital of the world. There are about 70 granite manufacturers there, and about six major quarries.”

Kingsport Assistant City Manager Chris McCartt said the monument will be placed next to the Veterans Memorial.

“It’s going to be adjacent to the memorial, but it’s also going to be separate from the memorial so each one has its own identity and doesn’t take away from the other,” McCartt explained. “We’ll be working on that over the next several weeks to determine that.”

TC-MAC President Ernie Rumsby said a Gold Star Family is a status that no one really wants. “They are forever in pain because they have lost someone in combat.”

Williams, 93, was unable to attend the ceremony due to illness, but he did give Casey some remarks to read.

“Your presence here today speaks louder than words,” Williams noted. “It says you are an American in its truest sense. Your presence says to those who lost a loved one that this is a great country and they are the true heroes of America who will not be forgotten.”

To make a donation to the project, contact Vanessa Bennett, Kingsport Chamber Operations and Leadership Kingsport director, at (423) 392-8813 or