Hundreds gathered in Huntsville today, under the shade of rustling trees, for the unveiling of a monument to honor families whose loved ones died while serving in the military.
The new monument, dedicated to gold star families, is the first of its kind in Alabama and one of 65 nationwide. At about 15,000 pounds, it stands over 7 feet tall and 13 feet wide.
It was unveiled and dedicated in the Huntsville Madison County Veterans Memorial park, just a few miles down Interstate 565 from the Redstone Arsenal military base.
“It is fitting that this monument has been built here because I don’t know another community that holds the brave men and women of our military in such high regard,” said Mike Wicks, a sponsor of the monument and the CEO of I3, a Huntsville defense contractor.
“This community understands sacrifice and embraces those special families,” Wicks added.
More than 200 gold star family members attended the dedication ceremony.
Cindy Stonebraker was a little girl when her father, Lt. Col. Kenneth Stonebraker, went missing nearly 52 years ago during the Vietnam War. He never came home, and Stonebraker said her family didn’t talk about their grief.
“I spent my entire life thinking nobody cared,” Stonebraker told the crowd in Huntsville on Saturday.
Now, she said, gold star families in Huntsville and beyond have a special place to reflect, grieve and feel the support of their community.
Stonebraker, a longtime advocate for families of missing in action service members, is the assistant programs director for the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation. The foundation assists local committees across the country, like Huntsville, in installing gold star families memorial monuments.
Lt. Gen. Flem B. “Donnie” Walker Jr., of Redstone Arsenal, said the monument will help ensure that fallen service members are not forgotten.
“Each one of them pledged their service to our country,” he said. “Each raised their right hand and they took an oath to protect our nation. And they stood watch on freedom’s frontier and each made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our republic, our families and the freedoms that we hold so dear.”
To the gold star families, Wicks said, “Just because you weren’t literally on the battlefield, you were still 100 percent connected to the bravery, duty, faithfulness, courage, selflessness, and the ultimate sacrifice made by your loved one.”
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