KINGSPORT — Gold Star Families are the relatives of a member of the United States military who died in battle.
It’s a status no one wants.
Soon, Kingsport will be the second city in Tennessee and one of a handful across the country that honors the fallen and their relatives with a Gold Star Families memorial monument.
The Kingsport Chamber Foundation has raised more than $70,000 from private citizens and local businesses to build the memorial. It will be located in J. Fred Johnson Park, roughly between the existing veterans memorial and the old Tennessee Highway Patrol building, which will soon be demolished.
The monument will be dedicated this September.
“Gold Star Families suffer a loss, and it’s a status no one really wants,” said Ernie Rumsby, president of the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council. “You’ve lost a loved one, and you’re going to have an empty seat at the table forever. I really don’t believe the pain ever goes away.”
The monument will stand five to six feet tall and include four granite monoliths on a rock platform with an image of a saluting soldier carved out. The granite has arrived, purchased from Bailey Granite and Monuments of Flatwood, Kentucky.
On one side of the monument will be words describing what it stands for, while on the other side the words could vary, Rumsby said.
Other monuments across the country bear various words and images, each specified by a particular community. Words such as “homeland,” or “country” with images of the U.S. flag or a branch of the military.
Right now, the committee overseeing the project is collecting different ideas and will soon make a decision on what will be on the other side of the monument.
“It’s going to be a beautiful addition to the park and the veterans memorial,” Rumsby said. “I think it’s fitting and proper we honor the Gold Star Families.”
The impetus for the project came out of a visit to the Model City last fall by Hershel “Woody” Williams, one of only five living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II and the last from the Battle of Iwo Jima.
During his visit to Kingsport, the 93-year-old Williams challenged the community to fund and build such a memorial. Williams’ foundation pledged the first $5,000 and according to Rumsby, the rest of the money was raised rather rapidly, including from main sponsors BAE Systems and Walmart.
According to the foundation’s website, 21 Gold Star Family memorials have been dedicated with another 43 in progress.