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Hershel “Woody” Williams, in red, the only surviving Marine from World War II to wear the Medal of Honor, reacts as Gainesville’s Gold Star Families Memorial Monument is unveiled Saturday, Jan. 25. Gainesville area residents raised about $80,000 for the monument, which was roughly two years in the making.

“We’re here for them. We’re here because of the sacrifice of others,” Hershel “Woody” Williams said during Saturday’s unveiling of Gainesville’s Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.

The Saturday morning, Jan. 25, ceremony at Leonard Park, 1000 W. California St., drew “one of the largest” turnouts of Gold Star families at a dedication, according to Cliff Yow, an honorary board member of the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.

Gainesville’s monument was the 60th to be dedicated since Williams set out to have a monument in all 50 states. There are monuments in 45 states, according to the foundation’s website.

Williams, the only surviving Marine from World War II to wear the Medal of Honor, emphasized during the ceremony that the monuments are not about him.

The black granite monument honors the families of servicemen and women killed while serving in the military.

One side bears 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 panels: homeland, family, patriot and sacrifice. The scenes on each panel are a reflection of the community’s Gold Star Families and their fallen heroes, according to a previous report in the Register.

At the center of the tribute is a cutout which represents the “Loved One who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of Freedom.”

Yow said the homeland panel was designed by Joe Conner and the family panel features a photo by Gary Alexander. Both are Gainesville residents. The Purple Heart in Alexander’s photo is the Purple Heart that he earned while serving as a Marine in Vietnam, Yow said.

The patriot panel is designed by Williams and features Joe Rosenthal’s world-renown image of the flag raising at Iwo Jima.

The sacrifice panel features the Bixby letter by former President Abraham Lincoln.

Gainesville residents and Gold Star family members Janice and Michael Hill were present during Saturday’s unveiling and dedication ceremony.

Michael Hill’s uncle, platoon Sgt. Oren “Ralph” Hill, served in the Marines and was killed in combat July 21, 1944, in Guam at age 26, according to Janice Hill.

“It is wonderful for the community to come together to honor the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” Janice Hill said of Saturday’s event. “Gainesville-area people have been working together for two years to make this dream come true.”

Members of the Gainesville City Council approved placement of a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at the park in December 2017. Groundbreaking was in March 2018.

Yow said he was thrilled not only with Saturday’s turnout but also with how “wonderful” the weather was.

He previously told the Register that rain was one of the main reasons the monument took so long to construct.

“I’m very thankful for everyone that had the opportunity to come out,” Yow said. “Now it’s on display for the public. Feel free to visit.”

The monument, which was funded through donations, cost around $80,000, Yow said.

Williams said he was happy to be back in Gainesville to see the completion of the project that was in progress for “quite some time.”

“It is another symbol to other communities not only in Texas, but in other states, that we have Gold Star families living in almost every community,” Williams said. “They deserve some form of recognition for their sacrifice and that’s what this memorial does. It gives them the recognition they deserve and the honor that they have not had in all these many years since the loss of their loved one.”

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