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Monday, June 24, 2024

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Gold Star Memorial a Long Time Coming

A rendering of the 15,000-pound black granite Gold Star Family Memorial that will be installed as part of the monument gateway in North Wildwood.

By Christopher South

NORTH WILDWOOD – The city is getting ready to unveil its new Gold Star Family Memorial and Gateway this year as construction continues on the project.

The city acquired property for the purpose of creating the gateway, in the area of Spruce and New York avenues, which is part of a vision the city has had for a long time, Mayor Patrick Rosenello has said.

Rosenello said the gateway is not at the immediate entrance to North Wildwood but is instead located in the area where the Veterans of Foreign Wars monument stood.

The mayor said the Gold Star Family Memorial would be the first in New Jersey. “It’s part of a complete rehab of the veterans memorial,” he said. “It has taken a long time to fully piece this together.”

The city is cooperating with the VFW on the creation of the gateway.

Bill Davenport, commander of VFW Post 5941, said the VFW is the sponsoring organization and is partnering with Run to Remember, a 501(c)(3) through which all the donations are being processed, and the City of North Wildwood.

The VFW monument is being restored and will be reinstalled at the site, in a triangular section of ground that was the site of the former Nino’s and, prior to that, the Triangle Restaurant. The site will also feature a 40-foot triangular tower that has nautical flags on each side.

“Gold Star Families” is a term used to describe “families of military members who have died in the line of duty,” according to USO.org.

Davenport said, “The national definition of Gold Star Family includes anyone who lived under the same roof or is a blood relative of a military member who was killed in the line of duty. That also includes the guardian or whoever raised them.”

He said he has been working on the North Wildwood project for about eight years.

The city applied for partial funding of the project through the Cape May County Open Spaces Program. On Tuesday, May 14, the county Board of County Commissioners authorized $1.75 million in Open Space Program funding to pay for part of the project. Davenport said the city is working very closely with the VFW, which he said is paying for the monuments.

The gateway was supposed to be ready for Memorial Day, but delays caused by the weather have pushed the completion date into the summer.

The view down Spruce Avenue in North Wildwood of the construction site of the Gold Star Family Memorial and Gateway. The project will also include a VFW memorial and an all-branches monolith. Photo Credit: Christopher South

According to city Administrator Kyle Rutherford, the Memorial Day remembrance ceremony has been moved to the Hereford Inlet lighthouse, which just celebrated its 150th anniversary, on Monday, May 27, at 10 a.m.

“We will have a ceremony for the Gold Star Memorial when its completed, but that’s yet to be determined,” Rutherford said.

The mayor said he hoped that would be before July 4.

Rutherford said construction of the gateway project began in February or March. He said this phase will include the all-branches memorial. There will be a monolith with the emblems of all seven branches of military service.

Davenport said that includes the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Air Force, plus the Space Force and the Merchant Marine; members of the latter two received limited veterans status in 1988.

He said there are at least two recognized Gold Star families on Five Mile Island. One is that of Army Specialist 4th Class Michael P. Callahan, for whom the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 955 in North Wildwood is named. The other is that of Marine Corps 2nd Lt. George William Coleman.

Coleman and Callahan grew up about 200 feet away from each other on Rosemary Avenue in Wildwood Crest, Davenport said. Callahan’s brother, Tim, said his brother attended Wildwood High School and the vo-tech school, which he said was not a high school in the 1960s. He played football for Wildwood and then went on to serve in the 101st Airborne Infantry Division.

“Mike left after Thanksgiving, and he was dead by June,” Callahan said.

According to Davenport, both Coleman and Callahan posthumously received the Silver Star, the third-highest military medal after the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.

Homeofheroes.com, which lists certain medal winners, says Coleman got his Silver Star “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Company D, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division (Rein.), FMF, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam on March 17, 1968.”

His sister, Deb Brannon, said Coleman had it in his heart to have a career in the Marines. He graduated Wildwood High School and attended the University of Toledo, where he earned a degree in physical education. He later entered the Marines and attended officer candidate school.

He was sent to Vietnam. Brannon said she received a letter from him about a week before her March 7 birthday, telling her he wanted to wish her a happy birthday because his unit was going on a mission, and he might not be able to write. She said he was killed on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, 1968.

“He, by his courage, aggressive fighting spirit and steadfast devotion to duty in the face of extreme personal danger, Second Lieutenant Coleman upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country,” the commendation reads.

Callahan’s commendation says, “The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Silver Star Medal (Posthumously) to Michael Patrick Callahan, Specialist Fourth Class, U.S. Army, for gallantry in action in the Republic of Vietnam on 6 June 1969.

“Specialist Callahan distinguished himself while serving as a team leader in Company B, 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, during the conduct of a search and clear operation near Tam Ky, Republic of Vietnam. On the cited date, the lead element of Company B was attempting to capture a North Vietnamese Army soldier who gave the pretense of surrender. While capturing the insurgent, the company came under heavy enemy machine gun fire from a nearby position.”

With disregard for his own safety, Callahan began to return fire and encouraged his team to do likewise, remaining in the open and attempting to put down suppressive fire on the enemy. He diverted enemy fire, thus providing cover for the main part of his team, which was attempting to flank the enemy position. Callahan was killed by machine gun fire, but undoubtedly saved many of his team from injury or death.

“Specialist Callahan’s personal bravery and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”

Tim Callahan said he believes the community has shown a lot of recognition of his brother’s sacrifice, especially former Wildwood Crest Mayor Carl Groon, under whose administration the memorial park was established at the end of Rosemary Avenue on Sunset Bay.

He said many organizations and mayors from other towns on the island have also recognized his brother, whose name is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at Fox Park. He said he and other family members would undoubtedly be at the dedication of the new memorial.

Davenport said Cape May County only recognizes the mother and father of the service member as Gold Star Family members. The county responded that there is no federal guidance on who is considered a Gold Star Family member.

A Marine veteran who served in Vietnam, Davenport believes all family members who lived under the same roof should be included as Gold Star Family members. “Every brother, sister, child or spouse,” he said.

The Gold Star monument will be the largest monument in the gateway and will be based on the Hershel “Woody” Williams model, which includes a black granite monument with a cutout image of a soldier saluting.

Williams, Davenport said, was the last Medal of Honor recipient from Iwo Jima. He said the Woody Williams Foundation was formed about two years ago and attempts to establish Gold Star memorials across the country.

The monument will be 15 feet long, 7.5 feet high and 10 inches wide, and weigh 15,000 pounds. The memorial will be accessible 24 hours a day.

The Vietnam memorial is being replaced with an off-white granite memorial containing the old plaque and the VFW emblem. The all-branches memorial will be black granite and have the seven branch emblems in color. The total cost of the project will be about $2.6 million.

Davenport, when he was in high school in the 1960s, worked for a taxi company, and one of his jobs was to deliver death notices to Gold Star mothers. He said there are more individuals from the Wildwoods who were killed in action than most people know.

He said the Gold Star label is not limited to those who were killed in combat but includes those who died from illness, injury or suicide — if they were wearing a uniform.

Davenport and others in the community, including Tom Corcoran, a Gold Star brother, Joe Griffies from the “Welcome Home Show,” Joe Orlando, a past VFW commander, Vietnam veteran John Vollrath and Dennis Dool, who organizes the Run to Remember to benefit veterans, have been working on the project for about eight years, he said.

He said he met Williams a couple times in Philadelphia, and he got hooked on the idea of having a Gold Star memorial in the Wildwoods. He said they brought the idea to Rosenello, and he immediately bought into it. He said the project got going “full stream” about six months ago, and they are looking for a completion date sometime in June.

Contact the reporter, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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