More than a MonumentMay 29, 2021 ● By Joshua Baethge
A large crowd descended upon Frisco Commons Park May 13 to attend a dedication ceremony for the new Frisco Gold Star Families Memorial Monument. It serves as a place for remembrance and reflection for those who have lost family members during wartime.
A Gold Star family is one that has lost a loved one to military service. The term was first coined after World War I. During that conflict, people displayed small banners with a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the armed forces. If one of those family members died or was killed in service, the blue stars were replaced with gold ones.
The unveiling ceremony for the monument was attended by active and retired military members as well as several state and local representatives and elected officials. However, it was the large contingent of Gold Star families who served as the event’s real VIPs. They sat in the front row, many of them sobbing as they listened to multiple speakers tell their stories of having lost a loved one.
Gold Star mother Evelyn Holland lost her son, 1st Lt. Laterron Lee. She said the new monument will be a place where she and others can come to reflect upon the sacrifices their family members made for their country. Holland vowed that she would visit the monument with an “attitude of gratitude” for those who had the courage to lay down their lives for others. She added that it would also be a reminder that freedom isn’t free.
Ms. Holland intends to continue serving veterans and their families while letting her son’s light shine through her. “It’s a reminder our flag does not fly because the wind moves it,” she said. “It flies with the last breath of each soldier that died protecting it.”
Jennifer Hanson spoke lovingly of her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Keith Hanson, who was killed in action in 2012. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C. Although this is a tremendous honor, Hanson spoke of how living in Frisco makes it difficult for her and the couple’s daughter, Hanna, to visit a place of remembrance for him. The new monument will fill that void, she said, and serve as a testament to military sacrifices by honoring the families that have been left behind. “We don’t go to the cemetery to visit our loved ones that have died,” she said. “We bring them with us wherever we go. I have no doubt that our loved ones are here today.”
Kellie Klopf expressed a similar sentiment. Her brother, Jeremy, was killed while serving in Iraq. After his death, she would often think of him as she passed places where they had spent time together in their native Southern California. When she moved to Texas seven years ago, she lost that physical connection to him. Now that Frisco has a monument to Gold Star families, she hopes it will become a place that people such as herself can visit and reflect. She also believes it will provide education for generations to come so that no fallen hero is ever forgotten.
One of the more emotional moments during the ceremony occurred when Gold Star mother Mary Courcy Bush told the story of her son, Cpl. Peter J. Courcy. She said that while some people may think she doesn’t want to talk about her son, she actually enjoys when people ask about him because it allows her to keep his memory alive.
Artist Banksy “is quoted as saying you die twice,” she said. “One time when you stop breathing and the second time when somebody says your name for the last time.”
Ms. Bush told the story of how she tried to dissuade her son from joining the service when he first expressed interest while he was in high school. He was a sophomore when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. A few years later, while on a break from college, he brought an Army recruiter to speak with his mother and answer her questions. Still unconvinced, she asked Peter to give her one reason to agree. He responded that it was not right for others to go and defend our country if we are not willing to go ourselves. She finally gave him her blessing.
Peter Courcy died two weeks before he was scheduled to return home from duty. Ms. Bush said she did not regret giving her blessing and spoke of her son serving a higher power.
The Frisco Gold Star Family Memorial Monument initiative was started by the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation. Mr. Williams earned a Medal of Honor for his service on Iwo Jima during World War II. He is the last surviving Marine Medal of Honor recipient from that war. His hope is to honor Gold Star families with monuments across the country. Through this effort, he believes he can help educate communities about Gold Star families and the sacrifices they make.
Each monument is designed to achieve three goals. Chief among them is demonstrating to Gold Star families that their communities care for them and appreciate their sacrifices. The memorials are also intended to establish local Gold Star family communities, and to strengthen that family within itself through outreach events associated with the monument location. Lastly, the monuments are built to educate communities about the sacrifices made by Gold Star families and their loved ones.
Each monument features an explanation marker intended to educate visitors about its design features and meanings. There are four panels, each etched with a scene representing homeland, family, patriots and sacrifice. There are currently 76 Gold Star Family Memorial Monuments in all 50 states. An additional 74 monuments are in the planning or construction phases.
The Frisco memorial is situated due west of the city’s veterans’ memorial monument. It will be lighted and include four benches where visitors can sit while reflecting and remembering.
Plans for the Frisco monument began in November 2018 when Mr. Williams spoke at the Marine Corps Ball. Frisco resident Chuck Wright, a member of the Frisco Veterans Advisory Council and vice chair of the Texas Veterans Commission Fund for Veteran Assistance, helped spearhead fundraising efforts.
As the time for the monument’s official unveiling approached, Mr. Wright got a bit choked up while recognizing the countless hours put in the by Gold Star Family committee that helped make the monument a reality. “I did not realize how emotional it would be,” he said. “I am so incredibly honored.”
During his remarks, Mr. Williams noted that throughout history there have been Americans willing to serve a cause greater than themselves. He called on every state to erect a Gold Star Family Memorial at their capitol building, and also acknowledged that no memorial would ease the pain of those who have lost a loved one in combat. However, his hope is that it will provide some peace and solace to those who have sacrificed one of their own.
“There is no substitute for freedom, a gift almost as precious as life itself,” Williams said. “This memorial speaks of those values for itself. They will be remembered.”
In another emotional moment, Mr. Williams asked each Gold Star family to stand up and, in unison, say the name of the relative they had lost. Later, Taps was played in honor of the fallen. At the ceremony’s conclusion, Gold Star family members in attendance took a yellow rose and placed it at the base of the new monument. It was a fitting conclusion to a day full of sorrow and celebration.
Joshua Baethge is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in publications large and small across the country.