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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ For many Americans, Memorial Day is a three-day weekend to travel, enjoy the outdoors or party. The original meaning of the holiday may be acknowledged, but oftentimes little is done to honor it during their weekend plans. For others, the true meaning of Memorial Day carries a more somber quality as we remember those who served and did not return as well as those who came back but have since passed. This is the real meaning of Memorial Day.

On May 28, the High Springs Lions Club will host a Memorial Day concert to raise funds for a Gold Star Monument in Gainesville. Although all who serve deserve respect and appreciation, those who did not come back deserve more in recognition of a life cut short by war, leaving families and friends to mourn the emptiness of their loss. Their families suddenly belong a singular group that no one wants to join, known as a Gold Star Family.

What sets Gold Star families apart and makes them special is the sacrifice they have made and the loved one they have lost in military service to the country. That death is not only a devastating loss of their loved one – it can often also seem like the loss of an identity, of a community, changing lives forever. There is another group that is strongly affected by these lives lost, and that group is their fellow soldiers who survived, remembering the comrades who didn’t come home.

Hershel “Woody” Williams was born on a dairy farm in 1923 in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Williams’ actions, commitment to his fellow service members, and heroism during Iwo Jima were recognized on Oct. 5, 1945, when he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman at the White House. Williams is now the sole surviving Marine from WWII to wear the Medal of Honor.

As War II began, Williams came into direct contact with families in his own community when he delivered Western Union telegrams informing the Gold Star families of the death of their loved one. Williams says that those experiences gave him a “greater appreciation for life and an understanding of a difference in death in the normal world as expected in life, and those lost serving in the military for their country.”

Williams noted that “consideration and recognition of the families of those lost in military service was very inadequate.” This observation and his personal commitment to veterans and their families brought about the creation of the Woody Williams Foundation The foundation’s goal is to honor these families by creating large granite Gold Star Monuments in every state. To date, Williams and his foundation are responsible for establishing 96 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with more than 79 additional monuments underway in 50 states and one U.S. Territory. They are currently building one in Gainesville.

Eric “Roscoe” Mattingly is a 100 percent disabled veteran of the Iraq War who was injured during the battle for Taji. When he returned from the war and mindful of his injuries, he sought a career that was achievable. Mattingly had always loved music and earned a degree in Live Show Production from Full Sail University. He has continued producing music shows and as a veteran he became involved with the Woody Williams Foundation and their Gainesville project. By organizing a benefit concert to raise funds for the Gold Star Monument.

The High Springs Lions Club and the Military Vets MC Club have a large stage and plenty of audience space. They have hosted a number of benefit concerts at their location and were happy to coordinate with Mattingly to produce the show. Mattingly contacted regional bands he had worked with who would provide their time and talent for a concert. The concert will be dedicated in honor of four local soldiers who paid the ultimate price—including Sergeant Campbell, Lance Corporal Clark and Staff Sergeant Reiners.

On May 28, the High Springs Lions Club will host Mattingly's “Roscoe's Memorial Day Celebra-Jam” featuring four Florida bands. Starting at 2 p.m., The Huligans from Jacksonville will take the stage. Dustin Monk and the Hustle are another Jacksonville band. Trae Pierce and the T-Stones are based in Miami and are four-time Grammy winners. Jesse Smith is originally from High Springs but is now based in New Orleans and New York. His band, Jasper Smitty & Gumbo Funk will close out the concert.

The show costs $25, which, after expenses, will go to fund the Gainesville Gold Star Monument. The concert takes place at 26900 U.S. Hwy 27 in High Springs. Gates open at noon in an outdoor venue and chairs are suggested. On this Memorial Day weekend, this is a concert for a good cause to honor the soldiers who paid the supreme price and the shattered families they left behind.

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