Fundraising to begin for Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Shawnee

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star
Gold Star family members Marvin and Donna Warren, left, and Nancy Ford, right, gather at Woodland Veterans Park to support fundraising for a Gold Star Family Memorial Monument.

Fundraising will soon kickoff for a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at the Veterans Memorial located at Shawnee's Woodland Veterans Park.

Nancy Ford, Donna Warren and Marvin Warren – all Gold Star family members – gathered at Woodland Veterans Park recently to support fundraising for the memorial.

“I think, if we're able to do it, it would be a really nice commemoration,” Ford said.

Ford's father, William Mendenhall, was a submarine officer in World War II who died in May of 1945 when Japanese forces bombed his submarine in the Pacific.

Ford said that people have served for their country for hundreds of years, and this would honor all of them and represent all Gold Star families.

Donna and Marvin Warren lost their son, Eric Dean “Doc” Warren, when he was killed in action in Afghanistan on May 26, 2012.

“Right now is a really difficult time. I have a lot of Gold Star mother friends from all over the country. Some of my friends lost kids in Iraq, and then Iraq went back, and they were devastated,” Donna said. “I could say 'Hopefully this never happens to me, because I couldn't stand it.' And now it's happening to me and I can't stand it.”

She said many of the service members who served with her son have contacted her to talk about him and to tell her how much his life and service meant.

“He always had candy to give to the children, because he needed to be able to see them,” she said. “They all just cling to him … and he would play football and soccer and teach them to do dances. Once, he had a whole village, including adults, doing this dance. Their point is, he touched those lives deeply. He made an impact that's lasting, and they got to see that life can be fun and free … and not be scared all the time. They said what he did was give them a hope for a brighter future, so I'm clinging to that as hard as I can.”

“I'm still mad, and I still think sometimes it's all for nothing,” she said. “They all told me the stories … hundreds of people have remembered. I feel like he made a great impact, but that hurts too because he should have been able to make more.”

With the possibility for a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument coming to Shawnee, Donna explained there are two different kinds of Gold Star families. The one everyone knows about and thinks about is those families who have a loved one killed in action. However, she said anyone who has a family member die while in the service is also a Gold Star family, whether that service member died in a training accident, suicide, car wreck, cancer, or anything else.

“I'm a mom. I lost my child. My friend, who lost her child to cancer, lost her child too,” Donna said. “My child gets to be on all the walls. People can remember, see that name.”

“The ones that commit suicide, they don't do anything,” Marvin added. “There's nothing.”

Donna said she had a past student who served in the Marines in Afghanistan, then later died in a motorcycle accident back home in the United States.

“That shouldn't negate the service in Afghanistan,” she said. “So while these walls are important, and I'm glad that they're there … this can bring ALL of the Gold Stars together, not just the KIA. A place for everybody. Everybody can come to this. A child can be remembered here.”

According to the Woody Williams Foundation website, which is working toward a goal of getting these monuments in communities all around the nation, it will “provide a place of permanence for Gold Star Families to gather and utilize as they see fit.”

The website said the goals of the monuments are:

• To provide a space for Gold Star families where they can honor their loved ones;

• To demonstrate that the community cares about Gold Star families and honors their sacrifice and the ultimate sacrifice of their loved ones;

• To strengthen Gold Star family communities through outreach events with each monument location; and

• To educate people about the sacrifice made by Gold Star families and the ultimate sacrifice made by their loved ones.

At first, Donna said she felt weird about having a monument for Gold Star families, saying, “I don't need a monument. My child needs a monument.”

But then she thought of all the other Gold Star mothers she knows who don't have their children's names on a monument or wall.

“They do deserve that,” she said. “A lot of people … that's how they introduce me. Instead of Donna, it's 'This is our Gold Star mom.' I'm not Donna anymore, I am a Gold Star mom, and it would be nice to get back to Donna. So I don't want this to be about me. I want it to be about those families.”

Fundraising hasn't begun yet, but will soon. Look to future editions of the News-Star for more information about where to make donations once the fund is established.

For more information about the monuments, go to woodywilliams.org/monument-overview.html.