BERLIN – Area residents, dignitaries and Gold Star families gathered Saturday in the Berlin Veterans Memorial Park for the unveiling of the Connecticut Gold Star Families Memorial Monument as a place to remember the price and sacrifices of freedom.
The memorial is the fruit of collaboration between the Woody Williams Foundation, Town of Berlin and the Connecticut Gold Star Families Memorial Monument Committee. Wedded duo Marianne Mihalyo and Gary Roy set out to bring such a monument to central Connecticut, and ultimately Berlin after meeting with Hershel “Woody” Williams, 98, the last surviving World War II recipient of the Medal of Honor, Marine, chief warrant officer and veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Williams and his foundation are known for helping establish such monuments throughout the U.S.
“Families never forget. Families serve,” said U.S. Senator for Connecticut Richard Blumenthal. “We should honor our veterans with action to help with their education and services we’ve promised them, but we should also honor their families, the Gold Star families especially, but all military families with what they need. Today is a special day.”
Gold Star parents Robert and Helen Keiser-Pedersen addressed the crowd about the importance of joining together and placing such a memorial in Berlin so those who wished to remember their loved ones and their sacrifice had a place to do so with others in similar circumstances. Gold Star families are recognized as those who have lost a loved one serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Helen serves as the president of the Connecticut Department of American Gold Star Mothers and both she and Robert are the parents of the late Capt. Andrew Pedersen-Keel of the U.S. Army Special Forces.
“Our sacrifice means a loss. It is what we’ve all given up for the sake of a better cause, America,” she said. “Here in Berlin, as in 93 other towns across the nation and with 80 similar monuments in progress, there is now a place to go and a place to sit on a bench to remember and to reflect on the high and human cost of our freedom.”
“There is not and never will be an end to our grief,” Keiser-Pedersen continued, “but this monument says, to Gold Star families and visitors alike, that for now and into the future, with the power and integrity of this monument, it says to us ‘Yes, we recognize you and your loss. We remember and will not forget.’”
Berlin Mayor Mark Kaczynski said the town was fortunate to have such a park and those active in contributing to its longevity and because of that, the park had been selected for being the sole location for the Gold Star Memorial.
“We have the perfect opportunity, as we dedicate this memorial, to honor our veterans, who have honored us by making the ultimate sacrifice to their country, in a way to say we not only will remember them but we will honor and recognize the sacrifice of their families and loved ones that are here today,” he said.
Williams was unable to be at the dedication, however, his grandson Chad Graham, president and CEO of the Woody Williams Foundation, said it was at the core of Williams’ heart to support Gold Star families from the time he was a young man delivering telegrams to families about the losses of their loved ones, onward into his service at Iwo Jima and beyond.
“To you, our Gold Star families who, as President Lincoln said, have the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom, all of us gathering here today is a commitment. A commitment that we will remember. And it’s a sign that this community cares about you and that they will remember your loved ones,” he said.
Graham noted that people often asked his grandfather what kept him going in his mission to support military families.
“Six very simple words that he genuinely said eyeball-to-eyeball with a veteran who asked him,” said the CEO. “He said, ‘The cause is greater than I.’ That cause is ya’ll. It’s our Gold Star families. Part of his message that he wanted me to share with you was purely a message of gratitude.”
Marianne Mihalyo, Gary Roy and Helen Keiser-Pedersen were named honorary board members to the Woody Williams Foundation before Gold Star families were the first invited to see the unveiling of the black and granite monument before they laid yellow roses in front of it.