By Staff Sgt. Timothy Beery
Utah National Guard
NORTH OGDEN, Utah - Gold Star families were honored during a memorial dedication ceremony Aug. 1, 2020, as Utah's first Gold Star Memorial was unveiled in North Ogden.
Historically the “Gold Star" moniker describes family members who have lost a loved one in military service.
The "Gold Star" originated during World War I, after being placed over a service flag's blue star, when a service member was killed in combat.The term has expanded to describe any family who has experienced the loss of a service member, regardless of whether the death occurred in combat.
“We’re trying to build bridges and connect people,” explained Jennie Taylor, a Gold Star widow herself, and the main driving force behind having the monument placed in North Ogden. Taylor’s late husband Brent, who was unexpectedly killed in Afghanistan in late 2018, was a military intelligence officer in the Utah Army National Guard in addition to serving as the mayor of North Ogden City.
“What this does is gives a name and a face to the concept of a Gold Star family,” she continued. “We had a family here representing their uncle from World War II, we had brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews representing their Marine from Vietnam. He died in a time when we didn’t have anything like this to honor them. Fifty-one years later, we are saying thank you to them for their service and their sacrifice.”
The focus of the memorial is to preserve the memory of fallen service members and allow their families some degree of closure and perhaps some comfort in knowing the community hasn’t forgotten them.
“I’m struck by the number of people here recognizing and appreciating the sacrifice,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Turley, the adjutant general for the Utah National Guard. Turley gave remarks during the unveiling of the monument, and expressed his support for families of service members.
“I feel bound to them (the Gold Star families). I feel we are bound to them and we are their family as they are ours.”
Saturday's Gold Star Memorial ceremony featured the foundation members of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Hershel Woody Williams, the oldest living recipient of that award who served in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Following his military career, Williams created his own foundation to help establish permanent Gold Star Memorial monuments around the country.
“This project started even before his military career,” said Chad Graham, Williams’ grandson, and president and CEO of the Hershel Woody Williams foundation.
“As a youngster he was delivering telegrams and notices of death to Gold Star families and that had a huge impact on him. That and of course his service and relationship with his fallen comrades, it really inspired him to preserve their legacies and memories.”
With assistance from other like-minded organizations, the Hershel Woody Walker Foundation has helped to dedicate 61 monuments in 48 states, as well as the territory of Guam.
The 61st Gold Star Memorial monument now sits between the Weber County Library and the North Ogden Police Department, outside the North Ogden City Hall. The black, monolithic structure serves as a powerful statement in a community deeply affected by loss.
“The symbolism of the missing service member, you can’t miss that,” said Taylor.
“When you walk by, you see this giant black slab of granite. It is beautiful and majestic, with a giant hole in the middle of it. I think that speaks to what a Gold Star family feels like. We’re strong, we’re bold, we’re proud, and there is a giant hole in our hearts.”
Taylor said she hopes this monument serves as a beginning and inspiration for other monuments throughout Utah.
“These monuments create a somber mood, one of sadness, but also one of deep pride and respect. I hope people see this and leave with all of those emotions, but also they know of our great gratitude and appreciation for all the service and sacrifice these families have been through.”
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