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The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, surrounded by Gold Star families, was unveiled Saturday on the North side of the Capitol. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)
A gentle breeze picked up the Capitol flags as the Jefferson City Veterans of Foreign Wars performed a 21-gun salute and a somber military bugle filled the air.
"This monument will stand in perpetuity as a reminder that freedom is not free, and we must never, ever forget," state Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, said.
Approximately 200 people gathered around the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument for its unveiling Saturday.
The event was emotional and moving, drawing tears in remembrance of lost loved ones while also providing a sense of community and understanding among veterans and gold star families alike.
The memorial honors Missouri's gold star families — those with an immediate family member who served in the military and died in a time of conflict.
Standing at 7 feet tall and 12 feet long, the monument is situated at the entrance for the new Bicentennial Bridge and next to the Missouri Veterans Memorial at the north end of the Capitol.
The memorial's front features a cutout in the shape of a saluting soldier and reads in gold lettering, "A tribute to gold star families and relatives who sacrificed a loved one for our freedom."
The back shows four scenes.
The first panel is consistent with other gold star family memorials in showcasing the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima in 1945.
The second panel depicts the homeland, in which the American flag is a background to the state Capitol and corn fields. It has the caption, "One nation, under God."
The third panel is a family image of a mother and child, and the shadow of their lost loved one standing at attention. The caption reads, "Honor and remember."
The final panel depicts a national cemetery, along with a soldier placing a folded flag in the hands of gold star mother Sandy Deraps. Underneath is the caption with the words of President Harry S Truman.
Deraps was the event's keynote speaker.
She lost her 19-year-old son, Leon Deraps, a lance corporal in the Marines who was killed in action in 2006 in Iraq.
"I just want to say how proud I am of the Jefferson City community, and central Missouri, for all the wonderful, patriotic people that took so much time and effort to show their love for not only the mothers of the fallen, but the families," Deraps said.
Deraps said the memorial serves as a reminder that America is free because of the sacrifice of service men and women and their families.
Cindy Stonebraker, a gold star daughter, said her family didn't really talk about their loss at home.
"For 45 years, I didn't know anybody cared," Stonebraker said. "It took 45 years for me to meet my first gold star family member and that day changed my life."
Stonebraker said the memorial represents a healing community in Jefferson City — a group where military and gold star families know they will never be alone and understand each other and the emotions that come with sacrifice.
Sharon Naught, who helped orchestrate the memorial, said the monument is a labor of love.
Naught and her husband are the sponsors of the entrance to the Bicentennial Bridge, so she said they thought honoring the community's gold star families would be the best way to use the space.
Jefferson City's Gold Star Families Memorial Monument is the country's 87th tribute to the families of fallen servicemen and women, and the fifth one to be placed on state capitol grounds.
While most committees take about three years to orchestrate Gold Star Family memorials, Naught said, the new monument in Jefferson City took a year.
Naught said the committee, made up of about 20 people, divided the work into groups and excelled.
"I didn't know some of our committee personally, but after this I feel we have a real bond," Naught said. "If I need anything, I can call them, so it's been a wonderful experience."
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said the monument is well positioned to be visited by hundreds of thousands of people, who can then glean a better understanding of what military sacrifice means.
"I'm just incredibly proud to be from a community that knows how to rally around our veterans and the ones we've lost and the ones we love," Kehoe said. "And I'm so thankful that they're now sharing it with all Missourians and visitors we have from all over the United States."
Naught said she was expecting maybe 100 people and a dozen or so gold star families to attend the unveiling, so she was touched to see 40-50 families and an outpouring of support for the memorial on Saturday.
Gold star family member Larry Hasenbeck, a veteran, was joined by six relatives in leaving flowers at the memorial after its unveiling.
The Hasenbecks were there in remembrance of their brother, Paul Hasenbeck, who has been missing in action in Vietnam since 1967.
Larry Hasenbeck said he is grateful to see a lasting tribute that captures the essence of what it means to lose a family member.
"They do so many wonderful things for the veterans already and this was kind of a hole that needed plugged up," Larry Hasenbeck said. "The families at home who have lost a loved one got this hole in their heart, which the monument does a good job of conveying."
The Hasenbecks said they plan to visit the memorial often.
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