GA flights help honor families of fallen soldiers

Williams, 96, founded the Medal of Honor Foundation and relies on general aviation flights to travel to and from dedication ceremonies and future monument sites nationwide.

A four-panel black granite monument was unveiled to Lovettsville community members on land provided by Dave Keuhner after Williams arrived at a nearby GA airfield in a Beechcraft BE50 Twin Bonanza. More than 100 people attended the ceremony, with many clutching photos of fallen sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers during a ceremony that coincided with the nineteenth anniversary of 9/11.

“We couldn’t do this without general aviation,” said instrument-rated commercial pilot Chris White, who stood silently with instrument-rated pilot Doug Olmstead after delivering Williams, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for “valiant devotion to duty” as a U.S. Marine during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

The two longtime law enforcement colleagues, friends, and aviators began their day preflighting a Beechcraft BE50 Twin Bonanza before sunrise at Knox County Airport in Mount Vernon, Ohio, northeast of Columbus. They stopped at a West Virginia airport to pick up Williams near his Fairmont home and flew him to a morning memorial monument dedication in Charleston, West Virginia, before landing in Frederick, Maryland. A short drive across the Maryland-Virginia border delivered Williams in time for the noon dedication.

The Grove City police department buddies earned their private pilot certificates together in the early 2000s, with each urging the other along during training. A succession of Mooneys led them to their current airplane, a Twin Bonanza with an airstair entry door that can accommodate the former taxi driver and Medal of Honor Foundation creator who will celebrate his ninety-seventh birthday in October.

White began flying Williams to memorial monument dedications in 2011 and was so moved that he raised a substantial part of the $350,000 required to establish a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in his own hometown of Grove City, Ohio. “It’s a pretty neat thing, and I guess I’m neck-deep in it,” he confided. “We’ve helped Woody get to a lot of places,” White recalled as he counted almost three dozen GA flights with Williams for Gold Star events.

Woody is just an amazing individual,” added Olmstead. “It’s just us and him and our aircraft flying across the country to patriotic events like this. It’s incredible.” He said there are times when “commercial aviation just can’t do it. Today we had to be at Charleston during the morning, and then here. GA fills that need.”

If the two pilots are unable to complete the airlift for Williams, “we find someone who can,” said White, who recently retired from the police force.

Families hugged, cried, and consoled each other before walking up to Williams to thank him for remembering their loved ones. A U.S. flag flying at half-staff snapped smartly above them as family members took turns placing yellow flowers and pictures at the monument’s base. Tears fell and voices choked up in mid-sentence as presenters and family members remembered those lost to war.

“This is not about me, it’s about them,” said the retired U.S. Marine chief warrant officer as he gestured toward the families gathered around him in a semicircle.

Williams explained that when he was a young cabbie, he was often called upon to deliver Western Union telegrams to the families of missing or killed military members. When families answered his unwanted knock at their doors, “It was never good news, and they knew it,” he recollected. “It was traumatic.”

Williams commended the establishment of “over 1,100” national monuments that recognize fallen soldiers, but he lamented that “there is not one [national monument] that recognizes the families.” His door-to-door experience delivering military notices moved Williams to honor the kin of those “who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

Sixty-five Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments have been established in 48 states, and plans are in place for 75 additional community monuments throughout all 50 states. The granite structures honor homeland, family, patriotic service, and sacrifice, and one side is unique to each community.

Williams urged Americans to remember that “those sacrifices are not to be ever, ever forgotten.”

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