A memorial for the families of men and women who die in war is on hold after a court ruling ripped away a large source of the project’s funding.
“I thought the lower court had already dismissed the case, and I felt good that that would be upheld by the Supreme Court,” said Paul Garrett, a co-chair of the committee to build the monument. “And, also, the [General Improvement Fund] program had already been suspended by the state. There was actually no money appropriated in this legislature; this was from , so I didn’t see the purpose of the suit continuing, to stop the program when it had already ceased on its own.”
The state legislature approved the construction of the monument in the 2017 regular session. It would honor Gold Star Families, the name given to the families of a service member who dies in combat. Garrett said he and the other members of the committee began pursuing the project after learning about Woody Williams, a Medal of Honor recipient who fought on Iwo Jima during World War II. His foundation is working to erect a monument to Gold Star Families in every state.
“The one thing that the families that lose a loved one are mainly concerned with,” Garrett, who served with the Marines in the Vietnam War, explained, “their main concern is: will my loved one’s sacrifice be forgotten?”
The monument was allowed to be built in front of the Capitol’s west entrance, in a highly-visible location. “By placing this monument over there in this very prominent place at the State Capitol,” Garrett said, “it tells these people: we may not can personally relate to their loss, but we realize what a tremendous sacrifice they’ve made.”
A different bill from this year’s legislative session directed two grants from the state’s General Improvement Fund toward the monument, totaling $90,000.
“In order to move forward with the project,” Garrett stated, “soon as we got the grant, we contracted for the monument. So, that money is spent. Even though we haven’t paid them yet, we’ve contracted for it.”
The GIF grants are not paid upfront, but as reimbursements. Garrett hopes the courts will agree with his claim that the money was as good as spent before the Supreme Court issued its ruling, and still honor the reimbursement.
That money would make a big difference to the monument committee. Garrett said they thought the Gold Star Family monument would cost $250,000, but the price tag doubled after they found out how bad the ground is that they were given to build on.
“The State Capitol was built on an old prison’s grounds, from years and years ago,” he mentioned. “And when they were building the Capitol, the rubble and the refuge from where they were building it were just shoved over to the side and covered up. So, when we started having core samples done, we’ve run into a lot of things that would not support a monument.”
Garrett said he and the other volunteers on the planning committee will look for more corporate sponsorships and private donations to pay for the monument. He added the local VFW and American Legion chapters, as well as several JROTC programs around central Arkansas, have fundraised on behalf of the monument. He believes the project will still be completed, just like he and the other Marines on the committee were taught when they served our country.
“I’ve faced challenges before,” he stated. “And they [weren’t] always the best of times, but we preserved through them, and that’s what we intend to do on this. We promised these families in the state of Arkansas that we were going to get this done, and we’re going to see it through. This is a setback, this makes it a challenge, but we’re going to get it done.”
Garrett said his group’s original goal was to unveil the monument on Veterans Day of 2018, but the loss of the grant money will likely delay the project beyond that date.
To donate to the project, visit the group’s website, or contribute to an account set up at First Arkansas Bank & Trust.