News and stories

World War II hero to help break ground for Sampson Gold Star memorial

May 1, 2017 

Steve Buchiere | Finger Lakes Times

ROMULUS — Hershel “Woody” Williams knew firsthand the profound effect of war on families at back home.

He is the last living Medal of Honor recipient from Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in World War II. But the Marine was also a cab driver at one time, and one of his duties was to deliver the dreaded Western Union telegram death notices to families that had lost a loved one in battle.

Those deaths in service of country have left thousands of families in mourning, many for the rest of their lives.

Gold Star Mothers was formed in 1928 to provide recognition — and mutual support — for those mothers who lost sons and daughters in battle.

Tim Young, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church on Route 21 in Palmyra, said the importance of the Gold Star Mothers organization has not been fully recognized, that we need to remember and honor those who were left behind.

Working with a foundation founded by Williams, Young is leading a local effort to make sure that happens.

On Sunday, Young, Williams and a host of local and state officials will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Route 96A in Romulus, just south of Sampson State Park.

What: Groundbreaking for Gold Star Families Monument, featuring Hershel “Woody” Williams, last living Medal of Honor recipient from Iwo Jima.

When: 3 p.m., Sunday, April 30

Where: Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery, 6632 Route 96A, Romulus

More details: Williams also will be speaking at Heritage Baptist Church, 2367 Palmyra-Marion Road, Palmyra on Sunday at 10 a.m. All are welcome to attend the service.

To donate to the monument

Contact Heritage Baptist Church Pastor Tim Young at (315) 597-2222
for ways to donate to the fundraising effort.

Williams also will speak at the Palmyra church’s 10 a.m. service, where he will “give his testimony,” said Young.

Young is leading the effort to place a 14-foot-wide-by-6-foot-tall Gold Star memorial at Sampson. To date, there are 13 monuments dedicated around the nation, with 39 additional projects in progress, including Sampson, representing 29 states.

A fundraising effort in conjunction with the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation is being led by Young for a project estimated to cost $35,000.

Williams’ foundation is providing $5,000 in seed money, said Young, who noted that the Sunday groundbreaking is part of an effort to take fundraising for the memorial to the next level. Church members are also contributing in-kind service toward the monument’s installation, he said.

Young said he is honored that Williams, whom he met in Washington a few years ago, is able to attend. A native of West Virginia, Williams is 93 but very spry, Young said.

“It’s an occasion for us,” he said. “I think anyone would love hearing him talk.”

The Palmyra pastor credited Sampson Cemetery Director Bill Yale and the Seneca County Economic Development Corp., which oversees the cemetery, for their assistance in placing the memorial at the burial ground for veterans and kin, which opened in 2011 with considerable help from former state Sen. Mike Nozzolio, who is unable to attend the Sunday groundbreaking.

Yale said the memorial will be get prominent display at Sampson, noting it will be placed across from the committal area of the veterans cemetery.

He’s honored that Young and his memorial supporters chose Sampson to pay tribute to Gold Star families.

“The history of it (Gold Star Mothers) is just great,” he said, noting that the deaths of those who die in service affect not only the bereaved families but the community at large.

These families, like the veterans who died for their country, need to be remembered as well.

Yale said Sampson and the EDC were provided a “very professional package for us to review. They (the EDC) gave the OK.”

York said placing the monument at a veterans cemetery is the most appropriate location.

Over 400 veterans and kin are buried at Sampson, their service ranging from World War II to the first Persian Gulf War. Sadly, Yale said, there will be vets from the Afghan and Iraq wars buried there in the future.