BEEBE It was Feb. 23, 1945, when Marine Corps Cpl. Hershel “Woody” Williams of West Virginia performed “service above and beyond the call of duty” in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands south of Japan in the Pacific Ocean. He later received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions.
It was Feb. 23, 2018, when Williams, the sole surviving Marine from World War II to wear the Medal of Honor, came to Beebe, Arkansas, to help dedicate the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument honoring families of service men and women killed while serving in the military. Williams founded the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation in 2012 to recognize Gold Star families and their loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Williams retired as a chief warrant officer after serving 20 years in the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve. He worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for 33 years as a veterans’ service representative, allowing him to continue serving veterans and their families.
“This is big news for this little community,” said Bubba Beason, co-chairman with Jeff Marshall of the Beebe Committee for the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument; both are honorary board members of the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.
Other committee members are Ken Adams, former commander of Beebe Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7769, who is also an honorary board member of the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, and Marshall’s wife, Chelsey Marshall, a Gold Star widow whose first husband, Jeff Swindle, lost his life in 2012 during Operation Enduring Freedom.
“This is the first Gold Star Families Memorial Monument to be built in Arkansas, and as we understand it, we are the smallest community in the United States to have one,” Beason said. “Although this monument is located in Beebe, it is dedicated in honor of all Gold Star families, from every city and every war or conflict. Another monument is planned at the state Capitol in Little Rock.”
Beason said it rained during the dedication ceremony Feb. 23 and several days before that, but there was never any intention of canceling or postponing the event because of bad weather.
“Woody said he has never postponed a monument dedication because of weather conditions,” Beason said. “This is the least we can do for these Gold Star Families, who have sacrificed so much.
“There was standing-room only,” Beason said. “We had 50 Gold Star Families in attendance.”
Beason said organizers set up tents and installed a temporary plywood floor on the grounds of the Beebe Veterans Park where the monument was erected.
The large black granite monument, which was designed by Williams, weighs 14,000 pounds and features two sides. One side is etched with the words “Gold Star Families Monument, a Tribute to Gold Star Mothers, Fathers, and Relatives who have sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.” The other side tells a story through four granite panels, each tailored to the community where the monument is erected. For Beebe, the panels depict Hometown, Honor, Patriot and Sacrifice. A quote by the late President Ronald Reagan is etched on the “sacrifice” panel — “We are forever indebted to those who gave their lives that we might be free.”
Beason said the scenes on each of the four panels “make this unique to Beebe.”
At the center of the monument is a cutout figure that represents the “loved one” who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.
The Feb. 23 dedication featured four speakers who addressed the stories depicted on the four granite panels.
“The mayor, Mike Robertson, addressed the story depicted on the Hometown panel, which shows Beebe ‘back in the day,’” Beason said.
Robertson, who is a native of Beebe, said he was honored to speak.
“This community has made so many friends because of this monument,” he said. “It has really brought out the patriotism of our citizens and a feeling of responsibility for these Gold Star Families. This is big for our community.”
Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin spoke on Honor, with that panel depicting American flags from the Arkansas Run for the Fallen Traveling Memorial, which Beason and Marshall coordinate.
Williams spoke about patriotism, reflecting the third panel’s theme, Patriot, which is depicted by the raising of the American flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
A Gold Star Mother addressed the story of the fourth panel, Sacrifice.
“Each panel features the American flag in color,” Beason said. “That is another unique feature of our monument.”
Visitors to the monument on Tuesday met the daughter of a “fallen hero” who came to see the monument for the first time.
“I couldn’t come to the dedication, so I came today,” said Tristan Ellis of Cabot. “My dad, William Terry Robbins, was killed Feb. 10, 2005, in Iraq. He was a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard.
“I think this is wonderful to have a monument for the families of the fallen soldiers,” she said. “It brings peace to your heart to know that people think about them, and you.”
Beason said he and Jeff Marshall have been working for Gold Star Families for quite a few years
“Last year, we approached the mayor about building this monument in Beebe. We stood before the City Council on July 25, 2017, and asked them if they would support building the monument. They said ‘yes’ within minutes,” Beason said.
“We raised the funds in less than three months,” he said. “We raised $49,714. We raised all that money here in Beebe, Arkansas, a town with 8,200 people.
“The monument cost $43,856. The total amount we raised paid for everything, including the monument, lights and foundation fee.”
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Oct. 28, 2017. Williams attended that event as well.
Beason, who is originally from Louisiana, and Marshall, who is from Russellville, are both “prior service.”
“I retired from the Air Force after 25 years, two months and five days,” Beason said, smiling. “I was deployed 16 times,” he said.
“I was in the Army for six years,” Marshall said, “including a tour of duty in Afghanistan.”
Beason said his desire to help Gold Star Families — “any relative that has sacrificed a loved one for our freedom” — began with “a chance encounter several years ago with a 61-year-old Gold Star Mother whose son was killed in Iraq.”
He said he had never heard of the Gold Star Mothers, an organization for mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service.
“I wanted to do something,” he said.
That “something” led to his involvement in the Run for the Fallen, first in New Jersey and later in Arkansas, after he transferred to the Little Rock Air Force Base. Beason’s involvement with the Run for the Fallen led him to Williams and his work for Gold Star Families.
Beason and Marshall met a few years ago in Beebe and quickly became friends and, later, co-workers. They own and operate Old Arkansas Alarm Co. in Beebe. Marshall is president of the company, and Beason is vice president.
“You can usually find one of us with the other,” Marshall said, laughing.
Now that the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument is built and dedicated, Beason and Marshall will turn their efforts toward the seventh annual Arkansas Run for the Fallen, which is set for March 16-18. The run will begin in Ozark and end 146 miles later on the steps of the state Capitol. Each mile of the run is dedicated to an Arkansas “Hero,” and families of those service men and women often stand at a mile marker along the route.
And in December, the two veterans will be involved in the Wreaths Across America effort that secures wreaths for veterans’ graves in national and state veterans cemeteries, as well as in the Arlington National Cemetery.
More information on the Arkansas Run for the Fallen or Wreaths Across America is available at arkansasrunforthefallen.org. More information about the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument can be found at hwwmohf.org.