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Woody Williams’ Legacy Includes ‘Marching Orders’ For His Gold Star Foundation

Gold Star Family Memorial VIenna
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Woody Williams said there's more to honoring fallen heroes than monuments.

The late Woody Williams leaves more than a legacy. Like planning for his own memorial service and funeral, the World War Two Medal of Honor recipient left “marching orders” for his foundation on continuing to serve Gold Star families.

Williams’ grandson, Chad Graham, serves as president of the Woody Williams Foundation. He said establishing hundreds of Gold Star Monuments (103 in all 50 states, 72 more monuments in planning stages) recognizing families of fallen service members just lays the base of honor and respect.

“It's more than building that monument, we're trying to strengthen and build a community around it, and something that will last in perpetuity,” Graham said. “I think it's evident to everyone that is exactly the way that Woody envisioned it, it's the way that he set everything in motion.”

Graham said his grandfather left plans to increase Gold Star family outreach events. He said the Gold Star Monuments are spread around the country, but Williams wanted to “connect the dots” and recognize families from the spaces “in between.” He pointed out one upcoming outreach event as an example.

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Woody Williams Foundation
A Gold Star outreach event is "a day at the ballpark."

“In Louisville, Kentucky we will join with the AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, the Louisville Bats,” Graham said. “We're going to bring 300 Gold Star family members out for a day of baseball, fun and fellowship. They are the VIPs and we're going to honor their loved ones throughout the day.”

Graham said his grandfather also forged plans to bolster the scholarship program for Gold Star families' children. There are $2,000 scholarships from the foundation and, in a partnership with Western Governors University, ten $10,000 scholarships at the school.

“These are to provide support for Gold Star families throughout their educational journey, rather than just a four year college degree,” Graham said. “It can include things like trade school, or certifications, or upper level graduate degrees. We want to make sure that we're helping fill the gaps that exist within their military benefits.”

The proud grandson said as a teenage taxi driver in Fairmont, West Virginia, long before he became a Marine, Willams was affected by delivering the worst news a family could ever receive.

“He saw the grief that is that of the Gold Star family,” Graham said. “It's been a consistent part of his life, up until we created the foundation. And obviously, that lives on.”

All the work done by The Woody Williams Foundation is fully funded through donations.

Government Reporter, ryohe@wvpublic.org, 304-634-8123

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