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Honoring Families of the Fallen

November 23 2018

Melissa Simon | Simi Valley Acorn

No one whose loved one goes off to war imagines they won’t be coming back.

But for many families, it’s a reality. These are the Gold Star families, the relatives of service men and women who are killed in action while fighting for freedom.

In honor of the fallen and the grieving families they leave behind, a 5-foot-high black granite monument was unveiled at the Reagan Library Nov. 12 as part of a Veterans Day celebration. 

“So many times in our history . . . we have paid great tribute to veterans who serve, which certainly is appropriate, but for whatever reason, we forget the families who lost that loved one,” Hershel “Woody” Williams, the driving force behind the monument, said during its unveiling.

Williams served with the 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division in the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II and is the sole surviving Marine to wear the Medal of Honor which he received Oct. 5, 1945, according to his autobiography.

In 2013, he made it his mission to erect as many tribute structures as possible to honor the fallen and their families. When he began, Williams said, he never imagined that a monument would be erected at “such a renowned place” as the Reagan Library.

Actor Gary Sinise, who lives west of the Reagan Library and is well-known for his role as Lt. Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump” and as leader of the Lt. Dan Band, helped Williams bring the memorial to California.

When he first connected with Williams, Sinise said, his hope was to find an appropriate place for the monument in his own neighborhood. That perfect place, he said, turned out to be the Reagan Library. 

Sinise said he doesn’t believe the country will ever do enough to show its respect or love for service men and women who die in the line of duty, and their families. 

“But we can always try to find additional ways to do a little bit more to make sure that you know that we do remember, we do appreciate and we are grateful, and we do not take it for granted,” Sinise told the Gold Star families at the ceremony Monday. 

The memorial statue is one way to do that. Located in the Gipper’s Grove garden where Ronald and Nancy Reagan are buried, the memorial is the 48th of its kind and serves as a stark reminder that freedom is not free. 

One of its two sides reads, “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star families and relatives who have sacrificed a loved one for our freedom.” 

The other side reflects on the importance of home, family, patriotism and sacrifice using images reflective of Simi Valley, Ventura County and the Reagans. 

At the center is a cutout that represents the loved one who paid the ultimate price. 

“Many of them gave their lives for folks they didn’t even know, (and) the families of those who made that supreme sacrifice will now, for the first time in America, have a memorial . . . they can go to to meditate, remember and grieve,” Williams said. 

“To the Gold Star families . . . you are the reason we’re here. Our heartfelt gratitude goes to you for the sacrifice that you made.” 

Viewing of the monument is included with general admission to the museum. The cost is $29 for adults, $26 for seniors, $22 for youths 11 to 17 years old, $19 for children 3 to 10 years of age, and free for military personnel and children 2 years and under.

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