'We share a bond': Gold Star families gather for groundbreaking of Naperville monument
Jayne Luebke said the community of Gold Star families is a great support network, but it's "a club that we absolutely never want to welcome you to."
The Naperville resident was among several members of Gold Star families who on Sunday attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Naperville Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at the city's Veterans Park.
She wore a shirt with the image of her brother, U.S. Army Spc. John Charles Luebke Jr., who died while serving in Vietnam on July 24, 1968. He was 20 years old.
Her brother, she said, saw that his fellow soldiers were surrounded by the enemy that day, so he ran in front and took fire so his team members could get away.
American flags rustled in the breeze during the ceremony, which included welcoming remarks by members of the Naperville Gold Star Families Memorial Monument Committee and music from the Naperville Municipal Band and the Naperville Men's Glee Club.
Committee member Lew Breese, who spearheaded the monument movement, talked about the two-year odyssey that led to Sunday's groundbreaking.
He said it grew out of a conversation with Hershel "Woody" Williams, the oldest living Medal of Honor winner, who served with the Marines in Iwo Jima. The Woody Williams Foundation establishes Gold Star Families memorial monuments throughout the country.
"It's been a long two years," he said. "Boy has it been a long two years. COVID, picking a location, updating foundation drawings for a northern climate, floodplain and topographical survey, asking for donations -- all presented their own unique challenges. But I'm pleased to report that the hard part has been accomplished."
Now all that remains is the dedication of the finished monument, likely to take place next year.
The stones have been quarried, cut, and polished, he said. Now they need to be shipped.
Plainfield resident Denise Williams, mother of Army Pfc. Andrew Meari and president of American Gold Star Mothers Inc., delivered the keynote address.
"We share a bond with each other, regardless of in what generation our loss occurred," said Williams, whose son was killed in November 2010 in Afghanistan. "My son, my only child, did not come home from war, but I'm still fortunate. I'm still blessed because of the community of gold stars. The community of veterans and the community of citizens that recognize and appreciate what they served for, what they gave up so that we all live where we do in this country with the type of freedom that is known nowhere else."
Luebke expressed her thanks to Naperville.
"That's the kind of city we are," she said. "People show up for others. But to have somebody acknowledge the families and to just say, 'Hey, we know you've gone through a lot,' I think that is really incredible."