Three rifle volleys followed by a bugle rendition of “Taps.”
These sounds melded with the antiphonal cicadas, the stirring of summer leaves, and the muffled hum of diesel engines below the bluff, rumbling across train tracks that once transported thousands of U.S. Service men and women to training bases throughout the United States.
The loved ones of those who did not return from fighting the nation’s wars were left to carry on without them.
Those families are the subject of the newly-dedicated Gold Star Families Memorial Monument on the grounds of the State Capitol in Jefferson City.
The unveiling and dedication, marked by solemnity and profound gratitude, took place Aug. 7, the Saturday before the statewide celebration of Missouri’s 200th anniversary.
The crowd that attended included many relatives of people who had died while serving their country.
“Hundreds of thousands of people will be able to see this monument and will be reminded of those who we’ve lost and the families who have survived,” said Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson City.
He said it’s appropriate for such a monument to stand near the entrance to the state’s Veterans Plaza, which honors the men and women who fought for the United States in times of war.
The Gold Star Families Monument’s four large, polished black granite tablets are etched with images honoring men and women who died in battle, and the loss their families experience as a result.
Inscribed near the bottom is a quote from Missouri native President Harry S Truman: “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices. Because of these sacrifices, the dawn of justice and freedom throughout the world slowly casts its gleam across the horizon.”
This is the 87th Gold Star Family Memorial Monument that has been dedicated across the United States and only the fifth to stand on the grounds of a state capitol.
Sandra Deraps, keynote speaker at the dedication, became a Gold Star Mother in May of 2006, when her youngest son, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Leon Deraps, was killed in action in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq.
He was 19. His earthly remains are at rest in Assumption Cemetery in Cedron.
Mrs. Deraps, a member of Annunciation Parish in California, spoke of her youngest son not as a fallen hero, but as a beloved family member who was kind to everyone he met.
To his family, the loss is still very real.
“I want to say how proud I am of the Jefferson City community and central Missouri for all the wonderful patriotic people who took so much time and effort to share love for not only the mothers of the fallen but the families: the dads, the daughters, the sons, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins,” she stated.
She said the best way to serve the families of fallen service men and women is not only to provide support to them “but also to say their name and keep their sacrifice in our hearts.”
“This memorial should serve as a reminder that we are free because of them” and the sacrifices they made, she said. “And please, also remember them as the family they are to us.”
Cindy Stonebraker, assistant director of programs for the Woody Williams Foundation, which offers help and fellowship to Gold Star families, pointed out how much passion, dedication and hard work went into getting the monument designed and built.
She led the assembly in prayer: “Dear Heavenly Father, we are gathered here today to honor the brave men and women who have given their lives for the freedom that we enjoy. ... Make each family know that they will never be alone, and that their loved ones will never be forgotten.”
She implored God to allow the monument to be a place of healing, “where these families can come and join together as a community that no one would ever want to be a part of.”
The monument stands near the entrance to the soon-to-be-completed Bicentennial Bridge to Adrian’s Island.
The public is invited to stop and spend time there.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony and unveiling of the monument, people whose loved ones had made the supreme sacrifice in battle were invited to walk past the monument and linger there for a while.
“This monument is yours,” said state Rep. David Griffith.