Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams says family members of those who lost their lives serving in the military haven’t been honored for their sacrifices, but he’s on a mission to change that.
Williams, 92, was among those gathered Tuesday at Patriots Point for a groundbreaking ceremony for a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.
He hopes to place at least one monument in every state, he said. So far, eight monuments are completed, and dozens of others are in the works.
Neal and Lucy Dillon, who are from Aiken, attended the ceremony in honor of their son. Marine Cpl. Matthew Dillon was killed in Iraq by an improvised explosive device.
Neal Dillon said the monument will do more than honor family members. “The secondary purpose,” he said, “is to tell young people there is more to life than themselves.”
The monument will be built on the grounds of Patriots Point, on land hotel developer Michael Bennett plans to lease, and then develop with three hotels, office buildings and an amphitheater.
The agreement with Bennett for the development still requires approval from the S.C. Joint Bond Review Committee and the S.C. Fiscal Accountability Authority, which Patriots Point officials hope will happen by the end of June.
Patriots Point spokesman Chris Hauff said the exact location for the monument will be decided once Bennett gets approval on the lease.
The monument will include a circular walkway surrounded by six benches representing all five branches of the U.S. armed forces and one for prisoners of war and service members classified as missing in action.
An 18-inch-by-16-inch granite plaque atop a post will be placed near or adjacent to the monument with an explanation of messages and meanings of scenes on the monument. The monument will cost $65,000, and the Gold Star group is raising money for it now.
Williams, a Marine corporal, landed on Iwo Jima and used a flame-thrower to open enemy positions. He’s the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from that World War II battle.
The West Virginia man said he was motivated to honor family members by a chance meeting with a father who had lost his son in Afghanistan.
“Nobody had paid any tribute to him,” Williams said. “He had never heard the word ‘Gold Star dad.’ ”
Williams said there’s no way of knowing the impact of the monument on the lives of those who will view it. “Youth will see the sacrifices made just to keep us a free people.”
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.