SIDNEY — The legacy of Gold Star Mothers in Shelby County was transformed into a memorial honoring Gold Star Families during a dedication ceremony Saturday at Graceland Cemetery.
The unveiling of the monument had been a goal of Chuck Craynon, U.S. Marine Corps retired and Vietnam War veteran.
“Medial of Honor recipient Hershel Woodrow Williams visited Sidney,” said Craynon. “His goal was to make sure every state had a memorial to Gold Star Families. Wright Pat Museum just dedicated their memorial.
“Shelby County has one Gold Star Mother still living,” said Craynon. “I talked to Dorothy Locker about the memorial. She got on board immediately and we started working on a design.”
The city of Sidney, said Craynon, donated the space at Graceland for the monument. It was placed beside a monument honoring Disabled American Veterans.
“Dorothy Locker wanted to be here,” said Craynon. “She’s 95 years old and sometimes has trouble walking. She’s the last Gold Star Mother in Shelby County. So even though she can’t be here, we’re going ahead with the dedication.”
During the Civil War, hundreds of Shelby County men lost their lives, he said. In World War I, 37 residents lost their lives. In World War II, there were 94 deaths of Shelby County soldiers. During the Korean War, 16 Shelby County residents lost their lives. In Vietnam, 17 were killed from Shelby County. In the Persian Gulf, one resident lost his life.
Historian and U.S. Navy veteran Rich Wallace, of Sidney, shared the rich heritage of the Gold Star Mothers in Shelby County.
“Mothers losing a child in combat during America’s wars were entitled to hang a white pennant with a gold star in their window at home. The grief they bore was crushing. Losing a son in the prime of his life was a heavy cross to bear, but that was only part of the story,” said Wallace.
“The national Gold Star Mother’s organization was formed in Washington, D.C., in 1928. Shelby County mothers who had lost a son in World War I began meeting shortly after that. It was would be two decades before there was an Ohio chapter of the Gold Star Mothers,” said Wallace.
The Shelby County Gold Star Mothers began dedicating themselves to serving wounded soldiers from the ”war to end all wars,” along with veterans and their families. Within just a few short years, they had another opportunity to remind everyone about their mission.
Construction began in 1931 on a bridge spanning the Great Miami River south of town. The new bridge was a major part of the newly created “Dixie Highway” which began in Canada and ended in Florida. Later designated as Route 25A, it was one of the first attempts to build a national roadway. The bridge construction was a massive effort which continued for 18 months. Over 33,000 yards of dirt and rock were cut from the hill above the river. The new bridge required 24,000 yards of concrete. The 7 percent grade up the hill and the three-span construction made the bridge one of the first of its kind in the country.
“Gold Star Mothers from across Ohio were part of the 5,000 people who witnessed the dedication of the bridge in August 1933. It would be forever known as the “Gold Star Mother’s Bridge.” The bridge was rededicated to the Gold Star Mothers in 1999 when the bridge surface was replaced,” said Wallace.
Four years later, in 1937, Gold Star Mothers from around Ohio wanted to form a state organization. It was to be known as the Ohio Department of the American Gold Star Mothers. They turned to Cora Pence of Shelby County to form the organization. The Dec. 10, 1937, edition of the Sidney Daily News carried an article with the headline, “Mrs. Pence, Gold Star Mother, Brings Honor to Sidney in Being Named President.” Her son Walter had died a hero’s death as a Marine in October 1918.
The power of local leadership and its impact around the state continued. The Ohio mothers decided to leave the Ohio department of the national organization and form their own group in 1951. They wanted to concentrate more on hospital work. Once again, Sidney provided the leadership.
“The first annual state convention of the new Ohio Gold Star Mothers Group was held in Sidney on October 17, 1951. Mrs. Kenneth Ferguson of Sidney served as president. The organization’s chaplain was Anna Neer,” said Wallace.
Her son Lt. Herb Neer stepped on a land mine while leading his men liberating Manila, capital city of the Philippines in 1945.
Ferguson was also president of the Ohio Gold Star Mothers in 1953. The convention was held in Sidney’s Hotel Wagner. Another Sidney female leader received special recognition. Mrs. George Brown of Sidney had been chosen as Ohio’s Mother of the Year. She was honored at the convention. It was noted she was also a Gold Star Mother.
“Strong Sidney leadership continued to help guide the Ohio Gold Star Mothers. The convention returned to Sidney in 1956. Leading the convention was state president Anna Neer of Sidney,” said Wallace.
“This legacy of local leadership continued in the years which followed. Dorothy Locker, the sole surviving Gold Star Mother, led the local organization for years after the death of son Jim in Vietnam in 1969. She traveled throughout Ohio and also served as state president of the Ohio Gold Star Mothers.
“The monument in Graceland is a fitting memorial to family members who survived the combat death of a loved one and turned their suffering into service for the benefit of others,” said Wallace.
U.S. Army veteran Jon Baker, who served during the Vietnam War, dedicated the monument.
“We gather here today for a grateful, and patriotic duty, to dedicate this monument, a lastimg memorial to the families of those who died for their country’s service and to those who gave their lives during time of war.
“We have all been touched in one form or another by the loss of a military member, but to their families, it’s a wound that never heals,” said Baker. “May we who served our country in war, continue in time of peace, to serve and to shield America throughout all our days and to never forget those who gave all.
“On behalf of all the Gold Star Families, I hereby dedicate this monument to the families of our honored fallen heroes,” said Baker.
The families of Robert J. Gold and Charles Gregory Huston, both who died in the Vietnam War, were on hand for the ceremony.
Ed Gold, brother of Robert Gold, said the ceremony “means a lot but I don’t know how to put it into words. Mom (rosemary Gold, a Gold Star Mother) did a lot of work and spent time with with Gold Star Mothers.
“It’s good to remind people that freedom isn’t free,” said Patty Kelly, Robert Gold’s sister. “Someone has paid beg sacrifices that (we) as a family never forgets.”
Charles Huston, said his brother John Huston, hasn’t been brought home from Vietnam. He was reported missing on March 28, 1968.
“His body was never found,” said Huston. “They found two sergeants he was with. We keep praying that he’ll be found.”
The memorial, he said, is important to all families who lost a loved one in war.
“Remembering them is the biggest thing we can do,” said Huston.
Pastor James Oates, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, provided the benediction and closing prayer for the ceremony, which was attended by approximately 50 people. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Ainsley Wiford, daughter of Rod and Dawn Wiford. Boy Scouts Mason Rose and Tommy Siebert placed the wreath on the memorial. Taps were performed by Alan Krahulak, U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Providing donations for the memorial was DAV chapter 48, Mark Adams, Tom Frantz and Eagle Bridge, Boy Scout Troop 97, Monumental Building trustees and the Gold Star Mothers.