ELKIN — A slight drizzle gave way to blue sky and brilliant sunshine during Sunday’s dedication ceremony for the new Gold Star monument in Elkin Municipal Park. Though recognizing the sadness of the sacrifice of families who have lost a loved one in service to the nation, the day was also a triumphant celebration of the vow to honor that sacrifice and never forget those who gave all.
“We intend this to be a place of healing and reflection, we want the families to know that their loved ones have not been forgotten,” said Jon Garing, Chairman of the Gold Star Committee which raised funds for the monument.
The event was widely attended by area Gold Star families, veterans and supporters as well as numerous members of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group which honors POW and MIA members of the armed services.
The monument in Elkin, part of the Hershel Woody Williams Foundation which seeks to “honor, recognize, and serve Gold Star Families,” is the 84th such statue in the country. There are two additional Gold Star monuments in the eastern part of the state in Wilmington and in Carteret County, this is the only Gold Star memorial in western North Carolina and southwest Virginia.
Williams, the last remaining World War II Marine to wear the Medal of Honor, took part in the ceremony, sharing several poems and readings reflecting on those who have lost loved ones in service.
“This is a day of a new beginning for this community,” Williams told the large crowd. “This is a special day for memories, a day to ensure those of the past who served America will be remembered. For those loved ones who sacrificed one of their own, for America, and for all of us.”
“This is a historical place but history doesn’t stop, it continues. So we’re making history again for this community today,” Williams continued. “It’s going to affect the lives of untold Americans, those who sacrificed and those who, for the first time, can observe a tribute and honor to those who have kept us a free people or perhaps made freedom possible for somebody else who has never known what freedom really was.”
The history of the site where Elkin Municipal Park now stands was referenced several times during the event.
“It is only fitting that such a monument be placed in this park for it was here in September 1780 that patriots assembled for a march to Kings Mountain to defeat the Tories in a turning point in the American Revolution,” said Elkin Mayor Sam Bishop.
“Three trails converge in the park, the Overmountain Victory Trail… the Elkin and Alleghany trail … and the North Carolina Mountains to Sea trail, running for over 1300 miles from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smokies to Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks, all pass by this monument. This monument shows that Elkin honors the Gold Star families of Northwest North Carolina and Southwest Virginia and thanks them for their sacrifice,” Bishop said.
Also speaking on Sunday was Davie County native Harold Franks, the 96-year old fought on D Day in the European campaign of World War II. Franks survived a German prisoner of war camp and is a Purple Heart recipient as well as recipient of a Bronze Star and the French Legion of Honor.
Franks described the night he was on patrol and was shot in the shoulder and the next day captured by the Germans. He detailed watching his buddy with a broken leg being “shot like a snake.”
“That told me I was in for a hell of a time,” Franks said. “But I didn’t give up, that’s the secret to surviving. I knowed my mom wanted me to come home and a lot of my friends wanted me to come home.”
“When things got really tough in that POW camp, I could hear mom praying for me,” Franks said, his voice thick with emotion. “Thank the Lord she did cause that what gave me the courage to keep fighting.”
Franks also gave accounts of some of the Generals he fought under during World War II.
“I loved ol’ Patton, he cussed a lot, that didn’t bother me, I didn’t have to do it,” he said. “He wanted to get the job done and get us home.”
“I served under Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton, all. I loved ‘em all,” Franks said. “They wanted to be Generals, they didn’t want to be senators.”
“The Army generals we’ve had lately want to be senators where they can get up there and steal our money,” Franks said to to laughter and applause from the crowd.
Sunday’s event concluded with Gold Star family members being the first to view the unveiled monument up close as they then laid yellow roses at the base of the monument. Members of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association, dressed in Revolutionary War era attire, fired a gun volley and Taps was played.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-258-4035 or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @news_shewrote.