Olathe monument recognizes families of those who lost lives in military service

The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at Olathe Veteran’s Memorial Park is the first monument in Kansas dedicated to the family members of those who died during military service. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

OLATHE — Kansas veterans and families, along with local and state leaders, unveiled Tuesday the first monument in the state dedicated to families whose loved ones died in service to the country.

Debbie Murchison-Perri, a Gold Star mother from Overland Park, said the monument would help strengthen the memory of her son, Matthew, who was killed in Iraq in 2007.

“By allowing us to talk about our loved one, it helps us, and you will learn about how great these men and women and their families really are,” Murchison-Perri said. “Because of the sacrifices made by all of us, here stands this monument.”

Murchison-Perri joined more than 30 other Gold Star families and Gov. Laura Kelly in honoring these families and loved ones at the unveiling of the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at Olathe Veteran’s Memorial Park.

Dale Duncan, a Gold Star father from Olathe, recalled standing at the door in 2011 as he was told his son, Spencer, had died when his helicopter was shot out of the sky in Afghanistan.

The Gold Star family community, Duncan said, has been critical in supporting him, his wife and the memory of his son.

“I never wanted to be a Gold Star. I did not want to be a part of this group,” Duncan said. “But these are strong people, resilient people, who work hard to honor their loved one. Today, I am proud to be a part of the family of Gold Star families here.”

During the unveiling, Kelly, who grew up in a military family, read a proclamation she recently signed declaring Sept. 27, 2020, as Gold Star Mother’s and Family Day in Kansas.

The date falls in line with a 1936 U.S. Congress declaration designating the last Sunday in September as “Gold Star Mother’s Day.”

“Our country has fitting tributes to the members of our military who answer the call of duty, put service above self, and the many who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” Kelly said. “But the loved ones our fallen servicemembers leave behind — our Gold Star Families — have endured the loss of these brave men and women, often without the recognition they deserve. This new monument is an appropriate honor for their courage and resilience.”

The tribute is part of the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation’s goal to establish a permanent Gold Star family memorial in as many communities throughout the country as possible.

Williams, who also attended the unveiling, said with the monument in Kansas, 48 states now have a Gold Star family memorial — including four on state capitol grounds.

Williams said Missouri recently agreed to be the fifth such state and challenged Kelly to match Kansas’ next-door neighbors in the future.

“A memorial on the capitol grounds represents every person in that state, every one of those who sacrificed,” Williams said. “It is our prayer and our hope that every state in this great country of America will eventually have a Gold Star family memorial monument on their capitol grounds that says to the whole nation, we recognize all of those who served.”

Kelly said she intends to take Williams up on that challenge.