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Sturgis Gold Star Families memorial dedicated

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STURGIS — As part of a Gold Star Family, one which has given a member in service to the nation, Rita Boy of Sturgis nurtures the spark of a scant memory of her natural father, who died in World War II when she was just four years old.

Boy barely knew her father, Sherlock Buls, who died in action in the Philippines in 1945.

“It was his first battle, on his 29th birthday. What else can you say? Heartbreaking,” she said, following Wednesday’s dedication of the Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at Harley-Davidson Rally Point in downtown Sturgis.

“It’s colored my whole life,” she said. “After all these years it still tears me up.”

As she grew up, Boy said her mother allowed little to no mention of her father.

“I was never allowed to talk about him, because she remarried and that was taboo,” she said. ”I’m very fond of my stepfather, but it wasn’t quite the same.”

But recently, Boy and her husband, Duane, also a veteran, contributed to the more than two-year effort to build the Gold Star Families monument in Sturgis.

The four-panel, black granite obelisk was installed in downtown Sturgis on June 29, the very day that Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died at his Huntington, West Virginia home at the age of 98.

Williams received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, for his actions during the invasion of Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945.

Williams, a 21-year-old corporal with the 21st Marines, Third Marine Division, was credited with single-handedly destroying a number of fortified enemy gun emplacements, allowing his unit to advance. He received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman in 1945.

According to a Woody Williams Foundation brochure, Williams’ own military experience, along with a job as a cab driver delivering telegrams, often containing grim notifications of the loss of loved ones, fueled his desire to honor Gold Star families.

He established his nonprofit foundation initially with the goal of building a Gold Star Family Memorial in his home state. With that accomplished, he expanded the vision to build memorials in all 50 states.

South Dakota is the 49th state to receive a memorial. The Sturgis monument is one of more than 80 dedicated nationwide, with nearly that number still in progress. Another is slated for Sioux Falls.

Dede LaRue of Sturgis said the Sturgis Area Arts Council helped with choosing local imagery for the monument.

Three of the four granite panels, entitled Homeland, Family and Sacrifice, include images of Bear Butte, Mount Rushmore, Fort Meade and the Black Hills National Cemetery. Many of the images came from the vast archives of Sturgis photographer, the late Bob Davis, LaRue said.

Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen said he hoped the monument will remind residents of the sacrifices made by servicemen and women and their families.

“This helps us keep perspective and also hopefully teaches new generations we need to thank a veteran, thank those families and thank the Lord we live where we live,” Carstensen said.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey P. Marlette, Adjutant General of the South Dakota National Guard, said he carries a reminder of family sacrifice in the memory of a South Dakota guardsman, Army Specialist Dennis G. Jensen of Sioux Falls, who died in Afghanistan on Aug. 16, 2011.

“I carry a picture on my phone, almost to the day 11 years ago, of me presenting the flag to his mother, so that I never forget the sacrifice that our soldiers make,” Marlette said. “As I have the privilege of leading the South Dakota National Guard and working with soldiers and airmen every day, that what we do is for real.

“And that we have people that we serve with, who have said I will go and die for my country, just as Dennis did,” he said.

Ward 3 Sturgis city councilor and retired guardsman Aaron Jordan headed a committee that worked for nearly 2-1/2 years, raising about $55,000 in donations to build the Sturgis monument.

Jordan said fundraising will continue to allow for advocacy, as well as supporting college scholarships for members of Gold Star families.

“We’re very proud of this,” Jordan said.

The dedication concluded Sturgis’ annual post-rally community appreciation picnic, which included a barbecue dinner served by members of the Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce and music from the band Chelsey Dee & Company.

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