Randy Yohe Published

Gold Star Families Monument Unveiled In Huntington On Woody Williams’ 100th Birthday

Black Granite Monument surrounded by people and flags.
Huntington Gold Star Families Monument
Randy Yohe/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Woody Williams, the late World War II Congressional Medal Of Honor recipient, created the Woody Williams Foundation to honor the families of those who died serving their country. His final wish was that the foundation erect a memorial for Gold Star Families memorial in Huntington. On Monday, what would have been his 100th birthday, he got his wish. 

Near the close of the dedication, Lee Greenwood sang his iconic song “God Bless The USA” before more than a thousand people gathered at the Huntington Memorial Arch. The site is now also the home of the nation’s 131st Gold Star Families Monument. Greenwood said as William’s long time friend, and a Medal of Honor Society award winner, he wouldn’t have missed this event for the world. 

“To give honor to Woody Williams is giving honor to all of them,” Greenwood said. “I’m proud to be here in West Virginia.”

At Williams’ state Capitol funeral service a year ago, friend and former Huntington mayor Kim Wolfe was reminded that he was tasked with getting this monument erected. Wolfe said it was one of many projects he worried on, for and with Woody, over 40 years. 

“About three weeks prior to his passing, Woody said, ‘I’d like to have a monument.’ I don’t know anything about monuments. ‘Yeah, but you know people, just make that happen,’” Wolfe said.

Grandson Brent Casey reminded the crowd that Monday’s unveiling was not about his beloved “papaw,” but the two dozen or so Gold Star Family members in attendance, each given a yellow rose to place at the base of the monument.

“I share his exact words at nearly every dedication and groundbreaking that he came to,” Casey said. “People try to make it about him when he would say ‘It’s not about me. We are not here for me. It’s about them.’ We are here for them – to honor and recognize the Gold Star Families.” 

Huntington’s Southside Preservation and Enhancement Alliance spearheaded the monument construction. The neighborhood group adjacent to the Memorial Park did all the logistics and raised all the money to make this monument and event possible. Alliance President Dan Gooding said all the work was true to a great man’s final wish.  

“Woody picked the spot that this is on,” Gooding said. “It was the last request he had. This is the county seat of Cabell County, where he lived the majority of his life. And so it’s very, very meaningful.”

Some heard the clip clop of a not really riderless horse leave the event area. Wolfe said Williams, a fellow horseman, made him promise he’d get him on a horse on his 100th birthday. Wolfe did just that. 

Men in police uniforms, one mounted on a horse, a second horse is riderless.
The riderless horse has Woody Williams’ ashes in his saddlebag.

Randy Yohe/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“Woody turned one hundred today,” Wolfe said. “He had told me many times, I want you to put me on a horse when I’m one hundred. So this is going to be his horse, and his ashes are in that saddlebag. There’s a little urn under that gold strap. He’s not looking down from heaven today, he’s here.”

Initially, the Woody Williams Foundation’s goal was to establish a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Woody’s home state of West Virginia. Once that monument was complete, a new mission was to establish monuments in as many communities as possible in all 50 states and U.S. territories. That has been done over the past ten years.

These monuments are a two-sided tribute made of black granite. One side bears the words: Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.

The other side tells a story through the four granite panels: Homeland, Family, Patriot, and Sacrifice. At the center of this tribute, is a silhouette of a saluting service member which represents the legacy of the loved ones who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Together, these features tell each community’s unique story based upon the pillars of the foundation.