Apr 25 2019
John O'Connell | Idaho State Journal
POCATELLO — Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England stood atop a hill within Arlington National Cemetery a couple of weeks ago, soaking in the view of a sea of military gravestones that appeared never ending.
During a Wednesday afternoon groundbreaking ceremony for the planned Idaho Gold Star Families Memorial and Plaza, England predicted Southeast Idaho families will soon be similarly humbled when they visit hallowed ground within their own community.
The monument will be located on land within the Northgate project, which is a multi-use development under construction in northeast Pocatello. A large crowd attended the ceremony on a breezy day, while Northgate construction workers moved earth in the background.
“I had no idea the size of Arlington Cemetery. ... It was an experience I never will forget,” England said. “I know that experience now can be replicated here in my community, and I call on each one of us to make sure we are a big part of helping people understand what this is going to be and to give it the honor it deserves.”
England advised visitors of the planned memorial to enter with “reverence in their hearts” based on the sacrifices of Idaho soldiers who have given their lives in service to their country, as well as the families they’ve left behind.
Portneuf Development LLC donated the land for the project and will also help with building infrastructure and moving earth. Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad emphasized the monument will be visible from the freeway.
“What a great opportunity we have as a community to have the first and the only Gold Star memorial in Pocatello, and I can’t think of a better place,” Blad said.
The project was spearheaded by the family of Master Sgt. Christopher V. Webb, who died in June 2017. His mother, Rebecca Webb, explained the memorial is intended to serve the entire state, and similar memorials are being constructed throughout the country under the direction of the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, which is based in Louisville, Kentucky. Webb was inspired to move forward with a local memorial after meeting Williams last summer, while attending the American Gold Star Mothers national conference in California.
The monument will include 44 gold stars to represent every Idaho county and five eagle feathers surrounding it, commemorating the state’s Native American tribes. A large gold star in the center will symbolize the loss experienced by family members when a service member makes the ultimate sacrifice.
Webb told the crowd she hopes the monument will bring healing to Idaho’s Gold Star families.
“I feel my son Chris would want me to go on, and I think he’s taking me on quite a journey,” Webb said.
Maj. Shawn Edwards, area officer with the 116th Brigade Engineer Battalion of the Idaho Army National Guard, served as casualty assistance officer to the Webb family. Edwards said during the ceremony that more than 1 million U.S. soldiers have died in service of the country.
“They did not lose their lives; they gave them, and that’s what this memorial is all about,” Edwards said.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, wrote a letter for the occasion, read by his regional director, Farhana Hibbert. Crapo described the memorial site as “sacred ground” and addressed Rebecca Webb directly in his letter.
“Rebecca, you may never know how much comfort you provide to others by giving all of us this place to remember fallen service members and the great sacrifice of the family members who stood with them and will always love them,” Crapo wrote.
Webb has organized a committee to help bring the project to fruition. Committee member Dale Spencer said he’s involved himself in the project in honor of his friend, Tony Lutz.
“He paid the ultimate price for our freedom nine years ago, and I and his family remember that loss every day,” Spencer said.
Organizers hope to have the memorial finished by this fall. Spencer said the community must continue to support the project financially as organizers need to fundraise $275,000.
Five local businesses brought the organizers closer to their goal during the ceremony, announcing sizable donations. Franklin Building Supply pledged $10,000; Idaho Central Credit Union, Idaho Materials and Construction and Intermountain Medical Clinic each pledged $5,000; and D.L. Evans Bank pledged $3,000.