The Grove City Gold Star Families Memorial Park serves as a reminder that the ultimate sacrifice of military service is not borne only by the members of the armed forces -- their families also sacrifice.

Members of Grove City area Gold Star families were among those attending the June 16 dedication of the city's memorial park.

The ceremony included remarks by Hershel W. "Woody" Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima. He started and continues to lead the effort to get Gold Star Family memorials established throughout the nation.

The term Gold Star describes a family member who has lost a loved one in military service. The Gold Star first made an appearance during World War I after being placed over a service flag's blue star when a service member was killed in combat, according to goldstarfamilies.com.

"To all the Gold Star families, you are very special people because you have given more than any of us, regardless of when we served or how much we served," Williams said. "You sacrificed so much more than we did."

Since the first monument was established in 2013 in Williams' home state of West Virginia, 37 projects have been completed and 41 more are in progress in 36 states.

"We had no dream, no idea that (this effort) would ever go farther then or anyplace else but West Virginia," Williams said.

While there are memorials throughout the nation honoring military personnel for their sacrifices, nothing had been done to honor and recognize their families, he said.

"This is something we should have done a long time ago," Williams said. "Why did we wait so long? We don't have an answer for that."

What is important, is that as one community erects a memorial, other communities learn about the effort and are inspired to create their own project, he said.

Grove City installed its memorial on May 30, 2016, at Broadway and Columbus Street across from the Grove City Library. Benches and landscaping have since been added to create a park.

The memorial follows a design Williams created.

One side includes the words "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 tells a story through four granite panels.

The first, Homeland, has an image of the Grant-Sawyer Home, one of the first homes established in Grove City, said John Darnell, a Grove City police officer who served as co-chairman for the local memorial project with police Sgt. Chris White.

The second panel, Family, "is a multi-generational cutout with grandparents, parents and children facing a field of flags to represent those left behind," Darnell said.

The third panel, Patriot, features the famous image of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. The fourth panel, Sacrifice, shows a caisson accompanied by personnel representing all five military branches.

"To me, the most symbolic part of the memorial is the silhouette cut-out of a service member in the center, which represents the service member facing back to the family, still on duty, still making the sacrifice," Darnell said.

During the dedication ceremony, Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage read the names of the community's Purple Heart recipients, who are honored at the Purple Heart Memorial Walk in Henceroth Park, 2075 Mallow Lane.

The Purple Heart and Gold Star memorials "are complementary to the patriotism we have in our community," he said.

As he greeted the Gold Star family members and other residents and dignitaries after the ceremony, Williams said attending a memorial dedication is always "inspiring and encouraging.

"To see a community respond, not to me, but to Gold Star families by giving them the recognition and honor they've never had before and deserve, it's something we should have been doing a long time ago," he said.

"The families are so appreciative," Williams said. "I see them come together and they start talking to each other and share the common feelings they have had but perhaps have not been able to share before. I hope it brings a sense of closure for them."

Attending the ceremony brought feelings of gratitude and solace, Michelle Riley said.

Riley is the mother of Joseph Riley, 27, who died Nov. 24, 2014, in Afghanistan. He was one of two soldiers killed by a bomb that detonated near their convoy.

"People will say, 'oh, an event like this must be hard for you,' but the opposite is true," she said. "It's so comforting because you know (her son and local service personnel) are not forgotten and that they are being honored.

"My family has received nothing but support from the Grove City community, and this is another example of that," Riley said.

More information about the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation and the Gold Star family memorial projects is available at hwwmohf.org/monument-projects.html.

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