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Johnson County to host 30th annual Veterans Day observance

Plans are underway for the 2016 Johnson County Veterans Day observance, recognizing local veterans from all wars, including a groundbreaking ceremony for a monument honoring local Gold Star families of fallen soldiers.

The Veterans Day event will take place on Friday, Nov. 11, at Olathe’s Veterans Memorial Park at Harrison St. and Dennis Ave. Activities will begin at 11 a.m. saluting veterans from World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. The celebration marks Johnson County’s 30th anniversary of sponsoring an annual Veterans Day observance.

The observance traditionally starts on the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month. That means 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, at Veterans Memorial Park.

Featured speaker for the program will be Colonel Peter Jaramillo, state chaplain for the Kansas Army National Guard and a Catholic priest. He has lost soldiers in his unit while deployed and plans to talk about the sacrifices a family makes and the grief that they go through on losing a loved one. Ed Eilert, chairman of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners, will emcee the ceremony.

Debbie Austin, president of the Gold Star Mothers Chapter, will also speak. Her son, Army Private First Class Shane Austin, of Edgerton, was killed in action in 2006 while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Gold Star families and members of the Northeast Kansas Gold Star Mothers Chapter have been invited as special guests. A Gold Star family is one with an immediate relative who was killed during active duty in the U.S. armed forces.           

The 2016 program will feature:

  • patriotic music by the Olathe Northwest High School band;
  • special songs by the Central Elementary School choir in Olathe and Southside Singers from Olathe South High School;
  • presentation of colors;
  • placement of memorial wreaths by local veteran organizations;
  • playing of “Echo Taps” and bagpipe music; and
  • rifle salute.

Gold Star Families Memorial

The event will also break ground for a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument designed by the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation based in Huntington, West Va.

An Army veteran, Williams is the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima. His goal, through the foundation, is to erect at least one Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in every state. There are 12 finished Gold Star monuments in the nation with 40 projects in progress in 28 states. There is no project currently in the works in Kansas.

The foundation provides communities with a design for the Gold Star monuments. Each of the monuments are made of black granite or marble, have a gold star, a portion cut out to look like a missing solder and is engraved with: “A tribute to Mothers and Fathers and Gold Star families who sacrificed a loved one for our freedom.” It is roughly 15 feet in length, 6 feet in height, and a foot in width. The monument design can be viewed on the Williams’ foundation website.

Organizers of the Gold Star project have launched a campaign to raise at least $40,000 for the monument to be placed in Veterans Memorial Park, which is managed by the city of Olathe. Donations for the Gold Star monument are being handled by the Olathe Parks and Recreation Foundation, a 501c(3) organization. The foundation can be contacted at 913-971-8555. 

Total cost estimate for the monument is $45,000. The Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation contributes $5,000 toward local monument projects. Williams plans to visit Olathe on Nov. 18 to make the donation.

Major contributors toward the project will be listed at the monument site. As soon as funding is achieved, project organizers hope to install the monument in early 2017 and dedicate it on or near Memorial Day.

Johnson County’s annual Veterans Day observance began in 1987 with a public celebration on the south steps of the Johnson County Courthouse before moving to the Kansas National Guard Armory in Olathe from 1995 to 2006.

Since 2007, the county event has occurred at veteran memorial sites throughout Johnson County, including the cities of Overland Park, Merriam, Gardner and the New Century AirCenter near Gardner.

More information about the Veterans Day event is available by contacting the Johnson County Manager’s Office at 913-715-0725 or jocogov.org.