Visitors to Tampa’s Riverwalk have a new place to honor families who have lost loved ones in military service.
The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at MacDill Park was dedicated on Nov. 7 and is one of the latest built as part of a national project led by the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation. Hershel Williams is the last living World War II Marine to wear the Medal of Honor.
The group has built 75 memorials so far in 49 states, said Cindy Stonebraker, assistant director of programs for his foundation.
“He realized that there were all these monuments and things put out to honor those who have sacrificed their lives, but there was nothing to honor the families that have been left behind,” Stonebraker said.
The new 13-foot long and 7-foot tall monument is the second of its kind in Tampa, with another standing at Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy Middle School.
The monument at MacDill Park allows people to observe and reflect while enjoying their freedoms on the adjacent Riverwalk, said Carlos del Castillo, a Tampa Gold Star father who served on the committee for the new monument.
Del Castillo’s son, 1st Lt. Dimitri del Castillo, was an Army Ranger killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011.
“For us as Gold Star families, I think that the most important thing is that it helps people to learn about the fallen, to think about the fallen,” del Castillo said, adding that "we don’t want our loved ones to be forgotten.”
Del Castillo helped select the artwork on the back panels of the monument, which feature images of a child saluting at a cemetery and a soldier kneeling before a military funeral procession. The monument also includes a silhouette of a soldier, which represents “the missing member of the military, the missing member of our families,” del Castillo said.
Plans for the new Tampa monument began in January, said Chris Reed, who together with his brother David and father, Calvin, led the nonprofit called CRISP through the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay to bring about the local project. CRISP stands for Commitment, Respect, Integrity, Service and Pride, Reed said.
Reed anticipates that more military memorials will come to MacDill Park.
“We’re focused on just trying to celebrate Tampa’s contributions to the U.S. military, and the park there is really where we’re trying to carry about that mission,” Reed said.