Newly installed Kansas Capitol monument honors families of fallen soldiers

photo by: Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector

Gov. Laura Kelly, right, Lynn Peterson and Phyllis Fitzgerald stand by the Kansas Gold Star Memorial Monument after Friday’s unveiling ceremony in Topeka.

TOPEKA — Soldiers, legislators and military families gathered Friday at the Kansas Capitol for the unveiling of a memorial honoring families of soldiers who died while serving in the armed forces.

Gov. Laura Kelly and former U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts spoke at the unveiling ceremony about losses suffered by military families. Kelly, who grew up in a military family, said she could empathize with the families present for the ceremony.

“I know from personal experience that it’s not just the military men and women who serve our country,” Kelly said. “Once someone enlists, the entire family is enlisted.”

“It is so important to honor the families of those we’ve lost,” she added. “The families who have also made the ultimate sacrifice. They’re a reminder of the tremendous price of freedom.”

The Kansas Gold Star Memorial Monument was built after several pushes to honor fallen soldiers, including Kelly’s 2020 meeting with Hershel “Woody” Williams, a former U.S. Marine Corps warrant officer and the last living World War II Medal of Honor recipient. Williams died in June.

photo by: Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector

Barbara Smith attends the Capitol unveiling ceremony for the Kansas Gold Star Memorial Monument. Her nephew, Aaron Smith, died in the Afghanistan War.

During their meeting, Williams asked Kelly to prioritize a memorial. The Legislature later voted unanimously on legislation authorizing the collection of private donations for a Capitol monument in 2022.

The monument, a 44-inch plaque, has been installed on the south side of the Statehouse building. The text reads, “Dedicated by the grateful citizens of the state of Kansas in honor of those Gold Star families who sacrificed a loved one for our liberties and freedoms.”

“I think it’s great that people recognize gold star families,” Barbara Smith said after the ceremony, wearing a shirt that had a picture of her nephew, whom she lost in 2009 during the Afghanistan War, printed on it.

Sierra Herring and Micah Lister said they also appreciated the monument. Sierra’s first husband, Micah’s father, was deployed when Micah was two weeks old. He was killed 10 weeks into his deployment.

“A lot of times, as gold star families, we are forgotten,” Herring said. “And nobody necessarily wants to have the continuous reminder of loss and what it actually costs. It’s nice to know that with the monument and being able to see it, it’s a reminder for our nation and for our Capitol here in Kansas that we are here and our soldiers’ sacrifice is the backbone of what makes our great nation what it is.”

Roberts was also honored Friday for his years of government service with a Walk of Honor plaque.

— Rachel Mipro reports for Kansas Reflector.


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