Military families to be honored with Gold Star Monument

SACRAMENTO – Families who have lost loved ones in war will finally have a dedicated monument in the California State Capitol building after years of support from Assemblyman Devon Mathis.

On Aug. 29, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assemblyman Mathis’ (R-Porterville) bill into law. Assembly bill (AB) 1762 authorizes the creation of a nonprofit organization to represent military families who have lost loved ones, also known as gold star families, to build a monument on state capitol grounds.

“No families have made a greater sacrifice to our country than Gold Star Families,” Mathis said. “I’m grateful that Governor Newsom recognizes this. While there is no replacement for those who’ve lost loved ones, I know this monument will touch the hearts of all who see it.”

The title of Gold Star Family is reserved for families of military members who have died in the line of duty. The history of Gold Star Families began in the United States shortly after World War I. During this conflict, the custom arose when families of service members would hang a service flag in the window of their homes, displaying a blue star for every living family member in the service and a gold star for those who had perished. Since then, this practice now forms a vital part of our country’s military community, history and tradition.

“I’m always humbled by the recognition that veterans like myself receive,” Mathis said. “However, ask any service member and they’ll tell you that their heroes are their families, and those who served alongside them but never made it home.”

This bill is the first step in preparing the memorial according to Justin Boman, chief of staff for Mathis’ office.  Now that Newsom has signed the bill, the nonprofit is able to begin work on a design and location for the monument. Boman said the monument will likely be near the already existing military monuments like the Purple Heart Monument and the all Veterans monument. 

The State Capitol grounds host the California Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Purple Heart Memorial and two Civil War Veterans memorials. This is the first monument honoring service members’ families. No designs are set in stone, but there have been talks of the memorial being a water feature. Boman said if all goes well, construction should begin by the end of 2023.

“It is important that California remembers and honors the men and women of our military who gave their lives to defend our freedoms,” Legislative Advocate Dana Nichol said on behalf of the aforementioned Veterans groups. “It is also important to honor the families who lost loved ones in war. The proposed memorial will provide hope and healing to those grieving the loss of their children, siblings, parents, and spouses.”

A variation of The Gold Star Families Monument Act has been around for over five years and has been thrown around the ringer. Candace Hamilton’s husband died as a result of the effects of Agent Orange and she has been fighting for the passing of this bill for several years. She said she is very proud to have seen this bill go all the way through. 

“[Gold star families] grieve every single day, it’s a non stop thing,” Hamilton said. “[The grief] is something they carry with them.”

Hamilton said the nonprofit organizations aim to raise $100,000 for the monument. She also said the importance of this monument rose again after the loss of the 13 US troops who lost their lives last August in Afghanistan, four of the 13 were from California.

Mathis had support from many and said he was grateful to his joint-authors, Asm. Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), Asm. Heath Flora (R-Ripon), Asm. James Ramos (D-Highland) and Asm. Randy Voepel (R-Santee).

“This is for those in every war who fell to be honored,” added Asm. Voepel, himself a Vietnam Veteran, underscoring the inextricable link between fallen service members and their families.

According to Boman, the only name that may be on the monument is that of Woody Williams. He was the last living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. Williams also championed the gold star monument movement across the United States. The intent of the movement was to have Williams be there when the bill passed, but unfortunately Williams died about a month before Newsom signed it. 

The Gold Star Families Monument Act also received support from the American-Legion Department of California, AMVETS-Department of California, California State Commanders Veterans Council, and the Military Officers Association of America-California Council of Chapters.