Jun 23 2019
Hunter Field | Arkansas Online
Construction began last week at the state Capitol for the first-of-its-kind monument to those who have lost family members in military service.
The Little Rock Gold Star Families Memorial Monument being installed on the grounds just west of the Capitol will be the 51st such monument erected in the U.S., but the first placed on the campus of a state capitol.
A group of retired military members and Gold Star families have spent recent years raising about $400,000 for the construction and maintenance of the monument.
Its dedication is on pace for Sept. 28 -- the Saturday before Gold Star Mother's Day -- after construction contractors submitted generous bids on the project, said Dwight Witcher, one of the retired Marines leading the efforts.
"We didn't strong-arm them, but we told them any help they could give us we'd appreciate," Witcher said. "And they did."
The monument is part of the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation network of memorials. Williams, awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, is expected to attend the September dedication. A foundation-backed monument was built last year in Beebe.
In Little Rock, a black granite fixture will be situated on a raised platform with a pair of benches overlooking the western portion of the Capitol campus. The front side will read: "Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who have sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom."
The silhouette of a saluting serviceman is cut out of the center of the monument, and the back -- which is individual to each monument -- is close to being finalized, Witcher said.
Sharri Briley, the widow of North Little Rock native Donovan Briley, who died in Somalia in 1993 during Operation Gothic Serpent, said she was grateful that the monument organizers took on the project. The military operation led to the Battle of Mogadishu, which was portrayed in the book and movie Black Hawk Down.
"It brings tears to my eyes knowing that they wanted to recognize our loss in a joyful way," Briley said. "Our community, alongside the countless other Gold Star Families from Arkansas, will have a place to come together and honor the brave men and women who have sacrificed their tomorrow for our today. It is really hard not to drive by the monument spot every day to see how much has been done from the day before -- I am very excited and looking forward to the September dedication."
Jonathan Brandon, the son of Staff Sgt. Stacey Brandon, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, also said he was thankful for the memorial organizers' efforts.
"Thanks to this memorial, people may see that it's not only the fallen who have sacrificed for our country, but also the families that they left behind," he said. "Sometimes those around us forget that the price of freedom is not free, but I can promise you the Gold Star Families don't."
The monument will be maintained by the secretary of state's office, which received $50,000 in maintenance seed funds from the monument fundraisers, according to office spokesman Chris Powell.
A 2017 law enabled the monument's construction. Secretary of State John Thurston said visitors to the Capitol could expect some parking disruptions until the project is complete in September.
"This will be a place of reverence and peace, reflection and honor," Thurston said. "It is my hope that this will be a place for healing for the many families who have given so much to our country."
Fundraisers are still collecting donations to cover any unexpected costs.
"You never know what contingencies might come up in a construction project," Witcher said.
The group is also selling etched bricks to be placed around the monument to honor individual veterans. Donations and brick purchases may be made online and include the name of a veteran.
Donations can be made at hwwmohf.org/little-rock-ar.html and brick purchases can be made by following the instructions on the project's Facebook page: facebook.com/pages/category/Community/Arkansas-Gold-Star-Families-Monument-233478283840957.
Andrea Fisher, a U.S. Army survivor outreach coordinator in Arkansas, said the monument will help keep alive the names, stories and memories of those who lost their lives in service to the country.
"As a nation we promise to never forget, and this permanent monument is a small gesture in keeping that promise," Fisher said. "The monument is also an opportunity to bring awareness and educate people who are not familiar with the military or don't have anyone in the military, of the lifelong impact the sacrifices have on our families. They have no other choice than to learn to live a new normal, and the sacrifice made by their fallen hero will forever live in their hearts."