Hundreds of veterans and their families watched as officials unveiled the Gold Star Families Memorial, a tribute to those whose sons, daughters and relatives died in combat.
The structure, revealed Wednesday, was the newest addition to Patriots Park on the campus of College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout.
Ryan Manion, whose brother was killed 10 years ago to sniper fire in Iraq, said she hopes her fellow Gold Star families come to know the joy, peace and resilience that comes with heeling.
“I hope you find strength in efforts like this that memorialize our loved ones, and that you too commit to carrying on your loved ones legacy by channeling the character and leadership that they stood for.”
Today, the Travis Manion Foundation aims to empower veterans and families of the fallen to develop character in future generations. The memorial, Manion says, helps in that quest.
“It connects us with one another. It reminds us that others know our sacrifice. That others have wrestled with and ultimately prevailed over that sense of loss and pain.”
Since losing her brother, Manion says she often thinks about the man Travis would be if he had survived.
“If he were here today, I feel confident that he would want nothing more than to honor those that were lost in these global wars on terror, and that he would make every effort to serve the families that sacrificed so much,” said Manion.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who served with Manion in the U.S. Navy, said during the keynote address that thinking of those whose lives were cut short “makes us wanna live better, to laugh harder, and to give more.”
“So many of the families who are here today – they know what this feels like. Because they have inherited – but I would say too all of us have inherited their unfinished business. What keeps us going is this; they would want us to keep living, keep striving, keep building,” said Greitens.
Greitens adds that while these fallen soldiers are often referred to as heroes, it’s important to note what made them human.
“We didn’t love our fallen brethren as heroes, we love them as people. Let’s still keep them alive as people. Now if we do that then we can remember that we do – as imperfect as we are – we have the possibility of being heroic ourselves. And that’s how they would have wanted it.”
The Gold Star Families Memorial, as the plaque adjacent to it reads, honors “those who have lost family members who died while in service to our country, preserves the memory of the fallen, and stands as a stark reminder that freedom is not free.”
The monument is made up of four panels, two of which join to form the shape of a silhouette of a saluting soldier. On the back, across the panels, are scenes depicting homeland, family, patriots, and sacrifice.
Rodney Swope, an Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War, traveled to Wednesday’s ceremony from Springfield. His cousin’s name appears on the wall dedicated to Missourians lost during Vietnam, another monument at C of O’s Patriot’s Park.
“We were over there at the same time. He was killed and I brought his body home to his mom. And there were several other people from Warrensburg, Missouri that I went to school that’s on the wall as well,” said Swope.
He called the Gold Star Families ceremony “emotional,” and being one of those family members is something he thinks about every day.
“It’s a changed world,” said Swope, contrasting the poor treatment of returning veterans from Vietnam to the support they receive today.
Saluting the fallen and honoring past and present veterans has been a tradition at College of the Ozarks. President Dr. Jerry Davis made that point in delivering his opening remarks, noting Patriots Park will add two more monuments – making six total - in the near future, honoring veterans of the wars in Korean and Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s all part of the college being intentional about its patriotic goals and taking the leadership role which we would like to see other institutions follow,” Davis said.
Wednesday’s event began by the seating of some 30 Gold Star Families, each handing over a red rose upon entry to represent their fallen hero. The roses were displayed on stage throughout the ceremony. Pictures of those soldiers were later shown on screen to the selection “I Will Rise,” performed by College of the Ozarks Chorale.
Other veteran speakers included Col. Woody Williams, Medal of Honor recipient from action at Iwo Jima during World War II; fellow WWII veteran Dr. E. Bruce Heilman, Chancellor of the University of Richmond; and C of O alumnus and Ret. Gen. Terrance R. Dake, United States Marine Corps.