Nolan Stout | Daily News-Record
HARRISONBURG — A West Virginia organization hopes to erect a memorial in the Shenandoah Valley honoring those who have lost a family member to war.
A small group gathered at James Madison University’s Memorial Hall on Monday to start planning a monument to Gold Star families in the area.
The effort is being led by Jerry Dumont of Broadway, an honorary board member of the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.
Since 2010, the Huntington, W.Va.-based nonprofit has been installing monuments for Gold Star families and the soldiers killed. The designation is for families who receive a Gold Star pin from the U.S. Department of Defense to commemorate their loss and their loved one’s sacrifice.
The foundation’s namesake won the Medal of Honor for his role in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
The foundation has helped construct 35 monuments, with 42 others planned in 36 states. The only completed monument in Virginia is in Norfolk, and another is planned for Bedford.
On Monday, the local group discussed locations and fundraising for the project, which is estimated at $73,000. The initial fundraising goal, Dumont said, would be $13,500 for a down payment on the monument.
The monuments are typically 4 to 6 feet tall and have a cutout of a saluting soldier. Dumont said the names of local soldiers killed in action are usually listed on a plaque to the side of the monument.
Dumont’s first idea for a location was undeveloped land next to the Harrisonburg Farmers Market, but Councilman George Hirschmann said the property is expected to become a park by 2020.
Hirschmann said the group could work with Build Our Park, a private-public partnership that includes the city and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, to include the monument in the 1.2-acre, $2.5 million park near City Hall.
The group decided to brainstorm other options and settled on the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.
“It would not be a bad second choice,” Hirschmann said. “It wouldn’t cater so much to the city as opposed to the Valley.”
Greg Lawson, logistics officer for the JMU Department of Military Science, said it could be easier to coordinate with the fairgrounds than city government.
“I would think there’d be less bureaucracy involved,” he said.
Lawson said the site also has more visibility than downtown Harrisonburg, better access and ample parking.
Dumont hopes to have a groundbreaking ceremony in October and a dedication by the spring. The next step is reaching out to the fairgrounds and local organizations to partner for donations.
Chad Graham, president and CEO of the foundation, spoke to the group via telephone and said the monuments allow the sacrifice by Gold Star families to be “perpetually” remembered. It also gives a place for the family and community to celebrate fallen soldiers.
“It is never easy to know what to say to a Gold Star family,” he said. “What the monument has done and hopefully what our work has helped with is it provides a way for our folks to connect with these families.”