A new memorial is set to be debuted during Memorial Day weekend at Veterans Memorial Park on West Third Street.
The memorial, which will be dedicated to local Gold Star heroes and their families on Saturday, was the brainchild of the Lake Erie Blue Star Mothers.
Since its inception during World War II, the national Blue Star Mothers organization has existed to provide support for active duty service personnel, promote patriotism and assist veterans' organizations across the country. Membership in the Blue Star Mothers is comprised of those who now have or have had children serving in the U.S. military. The local chapter has been active since 2007.
"There are seven soldiers from Chautauqua County that have passed since 2004 in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Susan Rowley, Lake Erie Blue Star Mothers president. "That's where our sons and daughters have served, and there's not a memorial for all of them anywhere in Chautauqua County. When we did the relocation of Veterans Memorial Park, we thought that it needed to be done there. It hit me that day - it was one of those moments where I just knew that this needed to be done. The next thing I know, we're neck deep into this."
A 10 a.m. ceremony will include the presence of many local dignitaries including U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, state Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-C-I-Chautauqua County, state Sen. Cathy Young, R-C-I-Olean, Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards and Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi. A 21-gun salute and color guard will be presented by the Vietnam Veterans of America. The dedication ceremony will also see the participation of the local Patriot Guard Riders, and will feature musical tributes and a bagpipe benediction.
Two cherry trees were planted at the park in honor of Arbor Day and five more will be joining them during the ceremony, planted by anyone willing to lend a helping hand to the Blue Star Mothers.
"Hopefully the gold star mothers will help plant the tress," said Rowley. "That would make it a very meaningful thing."
According to Kathy Collver, a Blue Star Mother, the group decided the monument and plaque would be put in the park specifically to honor the seven soldiers who have passed away in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the flowering trees would serve to honor all soldiers who have died in service to the country.
"We try to attend all of the services, but that didn't happen in every single situation, so this is a way for us to rectify the ones that didn't happen," said Rowley. "Our chapter has only been active since 2007, and the war started in 2003, so this has been a very long conflict."
The Lake Erie Blue Star Mothers have relied on fundraising to cover the costs associated with creating the memorial, asking area veterans' organizations for donations, but have also received support from businesses in the community that have stepped up to help create the memorial. According to Rowley, the group will be doing some continued fundraising to make up the remainder of the money that it has spent on the project.
"These Gold Star parents are out there among us, and they have to deal with the fact every day that they've lost someone in this war," said Rowley. "In a world of people that don't know how to relate, we wanted to do something to honor their families. These trees, I'm hoping that every time someone is driving down Third Street, they'll see them and remember those soldiers and their families. That's why we decided that the trees should honor all veterans. There wasn't a group in Chautauqua County like this during Vietnam or the Korean War, and we want those soldiers to know that we appreciate the sacrifices that they've made, too."
"We really would just like people from the community to come to this dedication," said Collver. "It's going to be really nice. We've tried to cover all of the bases to make sure it's perfect for the Gold Star families."