Attention Readers: We're Back
C&G Newspapers is pleased to have resumed publication. For the time being, our papers will publish on a biweekly basis as we work toward our return to weekly papers. In between issues, and anytime, continue to find local news on our website and look for us on Facebook and Twitter.
 Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams renders a salute by a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument. A monument is in the works to be dedicated in Clinton Township next year.

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams renders a salute by a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument. A monument is in the works to be dedicated in Clinton Township next year.

Photo provided by the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation


Gold Star memorial underway in metro Detroit

‘We had to do something to honor the families’

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published May 24, 2020

“We paid tribute to them, thanking them for their sacrifice, but after everyone left, one man remained. He was sitting with his head down and said with tears rolling down his cheeks, 'Dads cry too.’ That hit me like a thunderbolt.”

Hershel “Woody” Williams, Medal of Honor recipient, Gold Star Family Memorial Monument founder

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — People across the country recently paid their respects to military personnel who have died while serving in the U.S. armed forces on Memorial Day.

Locally — along with help from a Medal of Honor recipient and his foundation — efforts are underway to reflect on Memorial Day yearround, by establishing a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.

A new Gold Star Families Memorial Monument honoring the families of servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives while serving in the military is being planned in Clinton Township. The proposed site location is on the grounds of the Clinton Township Civic Center, located at 40700 Romeo Plank Road, south of the Clinton-Macomb Public Library Main Branch.

Nick and Karen Straffon, of Algonac, are the honorary board members for the Gold Star Family Memorial Monument, associated with the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.

The black granite monument will feature two sides — one side bearing the words: “Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a Tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom,” and the other side featuring four granite panels with the words “Homeland, Family, Patriot, and Sacrifice” inscribed.

Karen Straffon has participated in “Wreaths Across America” at Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township since 2012 and has met many Gold Star families.

“They go through the pain and sacrifice every day for the rest of their lives,” she said. “This is one way to make sure they are honored and not forgotten.”

The idea for a monument to be built in Clinton Township came in 2017 after Karen Straffon attended the dedication of the foundation’s first and only monument in Michigan, in Bay City.

The goal is to raise $75,000 for the monument. Due to COVID-19, fundraising events and dinners have been canceled.

Karen Straffon said what Gold Star families want the most is for others to ask about their son or daughter.

“Then they know they are not forgotten,” she said.   

Also due to COVID-19 and the economic impact it’s having in Michigan, Karen Straffon said the plan now is for the monument to be dedicated in September 2021. The original plan was for it to open this September.


Memorial background
The Gold Star Family Memorial was created by Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams to remember those families who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

The 96-year-old Williams, of West Virginia, was awarded the medal for his actions at the Battle of Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945.

Earlier this year, C&G Newspapers interviewed Williams via phone about his foundation, Gold Star families and his actions at Iwo Jima.

He said that from the Korean War onward, not much was done for Gold Star mothers, let alone families.

In his work with the Department of Veterans Affairs for 33 years as a veterans service representative, Williams would deal with families who lost loved ones, assisting them in obtaining benefits.

What he realized was that nothing was said about anyone else in the families, aside from the mothers.

Around 2008, Williams was speaking to a senior citizens group in West Virginia, figuring some Gold Star mothers would be in the group.

“We paid tribute to them, thanking them for their sacrifice, but after everyone left, one man remained,” Williams recalled. “He was sitting with his head down and said with tears rolling down his cheeks ‘Dads cry too.’ That hit me like a thunderbolt.”

In all the times Williams talked about it, no one brought up that he had never mentioned a Gold Star dad. Williams learned the gentleman was a widower who had one son in the Army who was killed in Afghanistan.

“He had never heard of a Gold Star dad either,” Williams recalled. “I decided from that incident, we had to do something to honor the families who lost a loved one in the armed forces.”

To date, the foundation is responsible for establishing 60 monuments in 46 states and one U.S. territory. Like in Clinton Township, more than 70 additional monuments are underway in 45 states.

Williams said that to him, a monument is a recognition tribute to the families that should’ve been done a long time ago.

“I have no understanding, why somebody, with all the death we’ve had in all the wars, hasn’t come up with a tribute or memorial to the families,” he said. “We have so many veterans memorials and monuments, we’ve done a pretty good job of that, but for whatever reason, we did not do anything for the families of those that gave more than any of us.”


Medal of Honor man
To summarize his Medal of Honor actions, Williams said his unit was in “a terrific firefight and had what today is called bunkers, but we called them pillboxes.”

Japanese forces were well fortified at Iwo Jima, making it difficult for American troops, mostly Marines, to advance.

Williams said he was trained to be a flamethrower demolition guy. With four Marines providing some protection for him, Williams said he took his flamethrower and went to work, doing the job he was trained to do.

“Unfortunately that day, two of those Marines sacrificed their lives for me, protecting mine. They gave all they had to make it possible for me to accomplish what I was supposed to do,” he remembers.

For a four-hour period, Williams, as he describes it, “eliminated” seven enemy pillboxes. At the time, and even when he arrived at the White House in October 1945 to be presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman, he had never heard of the medal, let alone knew what it was for.