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‘They sacrificed more than any of us’

Gold Star Families Memorial Monument dedicated

Jun 19 2021
Alex Szwarc | C & G News

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — A couple hundred people, one of whom holds a special title in American history, recently took time to dedicate a unique monument locally.

A dedication ceremony was held June 12 for the Clinton Township Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.

The black granite monument features two sides — one side bearing the words “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and relatives who sacrificed a loved one for our freedom,” and the other side featuring four granite panels with the words “Homeland, Family, Patriot, and Sacrifice” inscribed.

It is located between the Clinton-Macomb Public Library Main Branch and the Clinton Township Civic Center.

The dedication included the national anthem sung by Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient Jim McCloughan, remarks from folks like retired Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings and World War II Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, and the unveiling of the monument.

Today, the 97-year-old Williams is the sole living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, a conflict the U.S. became militarily involved with almost 80 years ago.

A Gold Star Family includes the immediate family members of a fallen service member who died while serving in a time of conflict. More than 60 Gold Star families attended.

The monument was created in partnership with The Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.

The foundation pursues Williams’ vision to establish the monuments in communities across the country. The monument is just the second in Michigan. The other is located in Bay City.

“I am absolutely overwhelmed,” Williams said as he approached the podium. “This gathering says so many things to me. The main thing it says is that every one of you cares.”

Williams said it’s not about him, but about the men and women who gave their lives.

“This is a special day for (Gold Star) members,” he said. “A day to assure that those of the past will not be forgotten and always be remembered. They sacrificed more than any of us.”

Williams said 85 memorial monuments have been dedicated in 50 states and U.S. territories.

“As time comes and goes, many will view this memorial and in some way know that their freedom and the freedoms of others were preserved by those we honor here,” he said. “May it bring solace and some peace to their hearts, knowing that this community does remember.”

The panels depict images such as the flag raising during the Battle of Iwo Jima, the battle in which Williams earned his medal; soldiers unloading an American flag-draped coffin; and a silhouette of a saluting service member.

The coffin is that of Army Sgt. Joseph Lilly, whose parents, Carol and Michael Lilly, of Owosso, are on the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument Committee.

Joseph Lilly was killed June 14, 2012, during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He was 25 when he died of wounds caused by an improvised explosive device.

“We are so honored by this,” Michael Lilly said.

Carol Lilly said no one ever wants their loved one forgotten.

“For a while after you lose a loved one, it’s nothing but a lot of sadness,” she said. “This is sad, but honoring them. You can come here and find peace. The last thing you want is for no one to say their name ever again.”

Committee co-chairs Nick and Karen Straffon, of Algonac, are honorary board members for the Gold Star Family Memorial Monument.

“To each and every Gold Star family here today, all I can say is I’m sorry,” Karen Straffon said. “There’s no way I could say I understand how you feel, because unless you are a Gold Star family member, you couldn’t possibly know.”

She mentioned that it was great to show the families, especially those who lost loved ones in the Vietnam War, that Americans haven’t forgotten their sacrifice.

In a brief interview prior to the ceremony, Williams told C&G Newspapers that, when the foundation was created and memorials began going up, he made it a commitment to attend every groundbreaking and dedication.

“I feel obligated to make sure that those loved ones who sacrificed their life haven’t been forgotten,” Williams said. “The families were forgotten for years and years. This was due. It was time to have it done.”

Karen Straffon said the Clinton Township monument is the first one in the country to include the service crest of the U.S. Space Force, which is on the patriot panel.

Over $100,000 was raised for the memorial monument, which cost $75,000. Remaining funds will be used for scholarships to children in Michigan Gold Star families.