LYNNWOOD — Honor, pride and grief were tangible things on Wednesday as about 150 people gathered at the unveiling of the new Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Veterans Park.
Uniformed men laid yellow roses at the base of the black granite monument as Gold Star Mothers — dressed head to toe in white to honor their children who died in active-duty service — crowded around to pay their respects.
Gold Star Mother Etta Wilson traveled from Spanaway to be at the dedication. Her son, Dwight C. Wilson, died in 2019 while serving in the Navy.
“It’s important that people know what was sacrificed,” Wilson said. “I think it’s rewarding for the families to know that their sons — my son — are not forgotten. Something like this is very uplifting. It makes me feel optimistic about America.”
This is the 200th Gold Star Family memorial in the nation and the third in the state, but Lynnwood’s Gold Star monument is unique, thanks to the master of ceremonies Andy Lopez.
Lopez, vice president of business development at GoodTrust, had three items built into the foundation of the memorial: black sands from the beaches of Iwo Jima, water from the fountain of Belleau Woods and three coins.
One of those coins belonged to Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving World War II recipient of the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest award for valor. His nonprofit foundation conducts outreach for Gold Star Families, providing scholarships and raising awareness. Woody passed away on June 29.
“When Woody passed away, he had been excited about this monument,” Lopez said. “And I remember I made him that promise — that we would have this monument put together.”
After Woody’s passing, Lopez asked the Woody Williams Foundation if Woody’s Medal of Honor coin could be built into the base of the memorial. The foundation agreed and sent Lopez the black sands that Woody himself had collected from the beaches of Iwo Jima, home of the major 1945 battle against the Imperial Japanese Army. Lopez supplied the water from the fountain of Belleau Woods, a World War I battle site in a France that has become a pilgrimage for Marines, and the other two coins are a Gold Star Family’s coin and this monument’s coin.
Vietnam veteran Michael Reagan spoke at the dedication, sharing that he has painted 8,700 portraits for families of fallen service members since 2003. Woody Williams was one of those portraits.
“I held my friend Vincent Santanella as he died,” said Reagan, reflecting on his friend’s death, its impact on his life and why he paints. “I got the opportunity to spend some time with Woody on a Zoom call. We talked about Iwo Jima. We talked about Vietnam. … I heard in his voice the same dedication and compassion I have in mine. These are the people this country owes the most to. I’ll spend a lot of time here.”
The dedication ceremony also included a keynote address from Lt. Gen. Mark Wise, a land blessing from Native American labor leader Chris Winters and remarks from Mayor Christine Frizzell. They spoke about the time and effort that American Gold Star Mothers of Washington, Lynnwood Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Woody Williams Foundation put forward to make the nation’s 200th Gold Star Monument a reality.
“I’m so grateful to the efforts of Monica McNeal, Woody Williams, the City of Lynnwood and the countless donors and volunteers who worked so hard to make this day a reality,” said Winters.
The monument’s four panels symbolize homeland, family, patriotism and sacrifice and feature Mount Rainier, the raising of the American Flag on Iwo Jima and a negative space that depicts the silhouette of a saluting service member. The absence represents the sacrifice and legacy of those who died in service.
It serves as a permanent place for people to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice while in service to the country.
Shirley Schmunk and her two sisters made the trek out from Richland to support fellow Gold Star Families and honor her son, Jeremiah, who died while serving in Baghdad.
“It’s so nice to have one right out here on the street, so people can walk by and actually see it instead of having to go to a secluded area far away,” Schmunk said. “It’s a real reminder.”
The $60,000 monument, built by Oregon Memorials, was paid for entirely by individual donations.
Two men played echo taps as the RS Seattle Marines retired the colors at the end of the dedication. One of those men was U.S. Navy veteran Glenn Ledbetter.
“You just can’t measure what this means,” Ledbetter said.
The monument is located at 195 street SW on the corner of 44th Ave West and Veterans Way in Lynnwood.