Across the country, Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments honor members of the military who died in the line of duty. The tributes give relatives a space to grieve and reflect on their losses. They are located in cemeteries in every state — except Oregon.
Now a project is underway to place one of the memorials in the Willamette National Cemetery in east Portland. It is led by local resident Nancy Menagh, president emeritus of Gold Star Wives of America.
"The monument will serve as a testimony and reminder to all families visiting Willamette National that their sacrifices are appreciated and remembered," said Menagh. "Our loved ones made the supreme sacrifice for our country, and we think of them each and every day as we continue to live their sacrifice."
The cemetery has agreed to donate a location for the memorial. Menagh looked at potential locations recently with other members of the project. Cemetery director Jared Howard showed them a number of sites, but recommended one adjacent to the Rostrum, where memorial gatherings are held. Howard helped place memorials at two other cemeteries he directed in other states before coming to Oregon.
"A federal approval process is required that can seem slow, but it can be helped by letters of support," Howard said.
The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs reports that an estimated 6,003 Oregonians in the military died in the line of service going back to the Civil War. Most, 3,757, were killed in WWII, followed by 1,030 in WWI. More recently, 142 died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The local project is supported by members of three organizations: Gold Star Wives of America, whose members lost their spouses; Gold Star Mothers, who lost a son or daughter; and Blue Star Mothers, who have a child serving in the military. Joining Menagh at the cemetery were organization officers Linda Gibson, Bernadine Lee and Valerie Morey.
Also joining them was construction volunteer Gary Purvine and supporter Kelly Broomall.
"We as a state have a responsibility to all Gold Star Families, and we need to honor and recognize that sacrifice," said Broomall, who helped build six 9/11 memorials in Oregon and Washington.
Gold Star Mother's and Families Day is the last Sunday of September. Many family members are expected to show up at grave sites at cemeteries throughout the state and nation on Sept. 25. Gold Star Spouses Day is April 5.
According to Menagh, around 6,000 family members in Oregon are currently receiving survivor benefits for a wide range of service related deaths, including Agent Orange exposure. Last fiscal year, 985 new Oregon applications were submitted.
"While some only consider Gold Star to include those killed in the line of duty, both Gold Star Wives of America and American Gold Star Mothers consider all of those who died due to their service. We all share the same loss, our spouses all served. We consider all of us to be Gold Star," said Menagh.
The two-sided memorials are made of black granite. One side bears the words: "Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom." The other side tells a story through the four granite panels: Homeland, Family, Patriot and Sacrifice. At the center of this tribute is a silhouette of a saluting service member, which represents the legacy of the loved ones who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
The memorials are provided by the Woody Williams Foundation. Williams earned his Medal of Honor at Iwo Jima and was the last remaining WWII MOH recipient when he died on June 29, 2022, at the age of 99. To honor those who did not come home, Williams devoted his life to creating a way for families to know that loved ones would not be forgotten. To date, Woody and his foundation are responsible for establishing 107 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States, with more than 72 additional monuments underway in 50 states and one U.S. Territory.
"When they see that monument, that memorial, it actually represents, their loved one," Williams said. "The grief is still there, but now there is something there that represents their loved one, which gives them some assurance, that that loved one is not going to be forgotten. I have been called over the years, many times, a hero, I am not. The heroes are those who never got to come home. They are the true heroes of America, because they gave their lives for her and for us."
Menagh's husband, Captain Philip Menagh, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1966-79, earning the Silver Star and other medals. He was shot and killed at Fort Bragg in 1984 while serving with the Virginia National Guard. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Her father, Lt. Col. James Minor, is buried at Willamette National Cemetery.
Menagh said she anticipates the cost of the monument and installation to be $100,000. She hopes 100 people and companies will be willing to donate $1,000 each, but will accept any contribution. Several local contractors, including Broomall, are donating construction services.
Donations can be made by check to the Woody Williams Foundation and sent to Nancy Menagh, 190 Ridgeway Road, Lake Oswego, OR 97034. In the notation, write Willamette National Cemetery.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.