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Gold Star families honored with monument to their sacrifice
E. B. Fergurson III | Capital Gazette
For county Gold Star Mothers Gina Barnhurst and Kelly Swanson, who both lost sons in Iraq in 2006, Friday's dedication of the Maryland Gold Star Families Memorial Monument was a comfort — and a relief.
Although the memorial is meant for the families left to wrestle with the tragedy of war, the two — both members of the Maryland Gold Star Mothers organization — were thinking not of themselves, but of their sons.
"Like someone said, our greatest fear is they might be forgotten. Now this memorial guarantees they won't be forgotten," said Barnhurst, whose son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Eric Herzberg, a Severna Park High School graduate, was killed 10 years ago.
"It reminds people of the real cost of war and that these brave men and women all have families, moms and dads, brothers and sisters."
Swanson — whose son, Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Swanson, was killed while on patrol July 22, 2006 — said that having the memorial in Annapolis is fitting.
"It is an awesome monument, something we can come see on a regular basis," she said. "I hope it makes people remember who our children were."
The memorial was built under the auspices of the Hershel "Woody" Williams Medal of Honor Foundation. Williams is a Congressional Medal of Honor winner in recognition of his gallant service on Iwo Jima in World War II. The foundation has built or is building 52 similar monuments across the country, in 29 states from California to New Hampshire.
This summer organizers sought to find a spot in Maryland. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary George Owings told the crowd of about 300 citizens, veterans and Gold Star families, "In less than about 30 seconds, which is a long time for him, Governor [Larry] Hogan gave us the green light."
They broke ground Aug. 15 at a site just up the hill from the World War II and Pearl Harbor memorials overlooking Annapolis, across the Severn River by the U.S. Naval Academy Bridge. In his remarks, Hogan jokingly corrected Owings, saying his order to move was immediate.
Several speakers took to the podium during the Veterans Day ceremonies dedicating the memorial, but it was the governor's remarks that hit home.
With noticeable emotion in his voice, the governor honored all the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States.
"There can't possibly be words adequate enough to express our sincere gratitude, our respect and our appreciation for all the men and women in uniform," he said. "We must always honor them and we must never forget, just as we must never forget the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice…"
He noted that his daughter and son-in-law did multiple tours of duty in the recent conflicts, and he knows first-hand "the sacrifice of family members who are left behind to worry and pray for the safe return of their loved ones."
Then the governor's voice cracked. "But I cannot even begin to fathom the unimaginable loss and heartbreak of losing a son or a daughter, a father, mother, brother, sister or a spouse to war."
In closing, he noted that the country has the strongest military in the world, "but the true strength lies in the strength of our military families. You are an inspiration to us all."
He said the monument is just a small way to "honor those families who will never again be truly whole."
The ceremony was marked by musical marches, including a round of "God Bless America," and many thanks for those who pitched in to make it happen.
Notable among them was Jan Scruggs, whose vision became the Vietnam War Memorial, knows to most simply as "the wall." The Annapolis resident heard that the Gold Star monument project was $4,500 short of its final goal and presented a check for that amount at the ceremony.
At the end of the ceremony, Barnhurst reflected on it all.
"We miss them dearly, but if they had to do it again they would … because they loved their country."