FORT BENNING, Ga. — Gold Star families joined the Fort Benning community Sept. 12 at the National Infantry Museum for the rededication of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial.
Forty names representing the servicemen and -women who died this year joined the nearly 7,000 already etched in the granite name plates of the memorial.
Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, said more than one American has died every day in combat in the 19 years since Sept. 11, 2001 — 6,941 days on Saturday.
It’s humbling to see so many Gold Star families, Donahoe, the guest speaker for the ceremony, told the crowd dispersed throughout the bleacher seats because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s my hope this memorial can be your rallying point, a place you can visit that will always stand in remembrance of your loved ones’ service and sacrifice,” Donahoe said. “A place that may be able to lighten the burden of your loss — even if it’s only for a short moment.”
Donahoe was commander of 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, in Iraq when the battalion earned the Valorous Unit Citation for actions taken against the enemy.
“I can see the names of the 17 of my battalion lost in combat along the Euphrates in 2005-2006,” he said. “I see their faces in the marble. … We took the fight to the enemy. We fought the righteous fight, and some of us will remain forever young. And it breaks my heart.
“Let these hallowed grounds always be a home for you; where you can feel the love of our Gold Star community and the endless gratitude of our nation.”
Gold Star father Kevin Graves, from Discovery Bay, California, made his first trip to Fort Benning for the ceremony. His only child, Spc. Joseph Graves graduated from Airborne School after joining the Army at 17 to become a military policeman.
“Joey’s end goal was working for the FBI,” his father said. Instead he died during convoy operations near Baghdad July 25, 2006. Assigned to 110th MP Company, 720th MP Bn., at Fort Hood, Texas, he last saw his father three weeks before his deployment.
“The last thing he did was come home to be my best man at my wedding. He drove home, saw his family and friends,” Graves said. “The next time he came home was in a casket.
“It’s been 14 years and I grieve his loss every day. I want to feel the pain because then I know we still have a connection,” he said.
Graves joined the California National Guard after his son’s death and serves as a chaplain’s assistant. A sergeant first class, he was here on a three-day pass. His unit is fighting the LNU Lightning Complex of fires in Sonoma County.
“My son was a follower of Christ, a loving and caring young man and a hero. He included others. … I’m still in touch with the Soldiers who were with him the day he died. I have five surrogate grandchildren all around the country with none of my DNA. They call me Papa Kevin,” he said smiling. Graves spoke at a dinner honoring Gold Star families Sept. 11
Graves described the dinner as a rarity, being with 360 Gold Star family members.
“It’s a fraternity we wish nobody would be a part of,” he said.
Originally dedicated in October 2017, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial is rededicated yearly the first Saturday after Labor Day. During the ceremony, Maj. William Long, the executive officer for the Marine Detachment here, described the memorial, which features a steel beam from the North Tower that was donated by New York City firefighters. It is connected to two concrete pillars representing the World Trade Center’s twin towers. In the center of the memorial are nine bronze statues, depicting an Infantry squad led by Spc. Ross McGinnis who was killed while conducting combat operations in Iraq Dec. 4, 2006.
“When faced the choice to turn from danger or face it, Spc. McGinnis chose the latter,” Long said. “Heroically absorbing the blast of a grenade in order to save his team, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.”
The team is not depicted statically, not standing guard but moving forward, Long said.
“To me this reflects not only the spirit of our great men and women in uniform, always moving to the sound of the guns; but also, the spirit of this great nation, a nation whose spirit cannot be broken,” Long said. “A nation that will meet any challenge head on and is a nation that has produced generation upon generation of warriors, men and women who eagerly answer our nation’s call to arms.”
This memorial keeps the faith that their sacrifice was not made in vain and will not be forgotten, Long said.
“This is very meaningful. My son joined the military because of 9-11,” said Gold Star mother Janet George-Morris from Stone Mountain, Georgia.
She wore her son’s, Chief Warrant Officer Chadrick Demond George, Bronze Star medal to the ceremony. He served in Afghanistan with an engineer unit and suffered from post-traumatic stress.
“My son wasn’t KIA but died as a result of his actions on the battlefield,” she said. “He died on an airplane; his heart was enlarged.”
He had custody of his three children, she said, and she moved to Joint Base Elmdorf-Richardson to help him.
“We drove 14 days to Alaska with 6 break downs.
“God gave me the gift of time with him; I didn’t know it at the time,” she said.
“Being here allows you a place to reflect, a place to come because sometimes as a Gold Star mother nobody wants to hear it. They don’t want to hear about your sacrifice. They don’t want to hear it.
“It’s good to have a place to remember, to say their name and know they are not forgotten.”
Retired Brig. Gen. Pete Jones, president of the National Infantry Museum Foundation, told the Gold Star families, “As a nation we are thankful for your resiliency and courage. … It’s through telling your story we become part of this legacy so that each of your loved ones become our loved ones and they will never be forgotten.”