The Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing and Peace Garden

Star   Like all mothers who have lost a loved one during military conflict, Cher Kondor struggled to find a means of emotional catharsis in the midst of her sorrow. Killed by an improvised explosive device (IED), her son, Army SPC Martin Kondor, became a casualty of the Iraq War on April 29, 2004 – and his death served as the inspiration behind a unique monument known as the Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing & Peace Garden, located in York City, Pennsylvania. Constructed for the initial cost of $750,000, the garden honors the memory of Pennsylvania’s war dead, especially those lost to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Realization of the memorial came about in large degree from the efforts of Ms. Condor, who remembers hugging her son for the last time at the Philadelphia International Airport in January of 2004. Posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, Martin Kondor enlisted in the Army on his 18th birthday, not even 2 months after the infamous attacks of 911. “We have been attacked on our sovereign soil. I’m going to do some­thing about it,” he told his parents and younger brother as they sat at the dining room table. Martin Kondor died while manning a machine gun in a convoy, when his armored vehicle hit a roadside bomb and exploded.


ALL PHOTOS: Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing and Peace Garden located in York, PA (2012 Photos, S. H. Smith)

In an effort to cope with her grief, Kondor joined the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization formed in 1928 by women that had lost a son or daughter in World War I. Eventually assuming the office of Secretary for the Greater Harrisburg Chapter of Gold Star Moth­ers, she found solace in the company of other mothers who had buried loved ones that had died in the war. Forging ahead with her idea to build a peace garden, the kickoff for the construction of the memorial, described as “a memorial arboretum particularly dedicated to our intrepid sons and daughters now fighting the war on terror,” occurred at Murphy and Dittenhafer Architects in York City on November 22, 2011. Work began in January of 2012 by ripping up a parking lot, and the dedication occurred exactly on schedule with a ceremony held on June 9, 2012.

The completed memorial is beautiful, including symbolism that involves meditative areas that have been designated with a color. The different areas are planted with appropriately colored fauna to represent core values of those that served in the U. S. Armed Services. As outlined at the website, these colors include:

  • Red represents Courage. Flowers include: Paprika Yarrow, Autumn Joy Sedum, Phlox “Scarlet Flame”, ”Limerock Ruby” Tickseed, Firepower Nandina, Japanese Blood Grass, Min Toy Daylily
  • Orange represents Duty & Service. Flowers include: Lowboy Pyracantha, Sundown Coneflower, Tuscawilla Tigress Daylily, Butterfly Weed, Red Hot Poker, Orange Summer Phlox
  • Yellow represents Remembrance. Flowers include: Gold Splash Euonymus, Golden Mop False Cypress, Golden Japanese Barberry, Carolina Moonlight False Indigo, Sun Power Hosta, “Lemon Silver” Evening Primrose, Bowies Golden Sedge, “Moonbeam” Tickseed
  • Green represents Healing. Flowers include: Lady’s Mantle, Silver Variegated Sedge, Lime Rickey Coral Bells, Goldmound Spiraea, Plantain Lily, Martin’s Spurge, Scotch Moss, Bright Edge Yucca, Limelight Hydrangea
  • Blue represents Fidelity. Flowers include: Blue Star Juniper, Rozanne Geranium, Blue Mist Spiraea, Blue Cadet Hosta, Spiderwort, Speedwell, False Indigo, Blue Star, Blue Fescue
  • Purple represents Valor. Flowers include: New York Aster, Crimson Pygmy Barberry, Greyfeather, Dwarf Russian Sage, May Night Salvia, Black Mondo Grass, Catmint, Dwarf Beautyberry
  • White represents Honor

Click for Larger Map

As a “living memorial” to those that have sacrificed their lives in the war against terrorism, the design of the garden brings these characteristics to life, around a central plaza that is in the shape of a star. A fountain, intended to symbolize never-ending hope and life, bubbles vibrantly in the midst of this plaza – while a black granite Wall of Honor, designed to resemble the Vietnam War Memorial, is inscribed with the names of those from Pennsylvania that have fallen in the war against terror. Another separate wall, located at the front of the garden, lists the names of those from York County, Pennsylvania that have fallen in battle since the inception of the Gold Star Mothers in 1928.

It is fitting and appropriate to honor those that have fallen in battle to preserve our country and protect against the dangers of terrorism. As the inscription states, “war made them soldiers, their actions made them heroes. Consider the Gold Star Garden as we honor those who serve and those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the War on Terror.” Bricks and benches can be ordered for placement at the garden in recognition of military personnel, and the Gold Star Mothers are accepting donations to help pay for the remaining cost of the memorial’s construction. However, recognition of the war on terror should move beyond the names of soldiers that have died on the battlefield, to include the names of the victims for whom the war has been waged in the first place. The Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing and Peace Garden is a very fitting example of a monument that could be dedicated to those victims that have died innocently and tragically throughout the world. You can help bring such a memorial to reality by clicking the link below and signing the petition.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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A Widow’s Tale: Real Lives and the Tragedy of Terrorism

images Newsrooms and news reporters too frequently convey the tragic news of those that die in acts of terror, but they have never really told the whole story. Left grossly unstated after the heartbreaking deaths of thousands of Americans have been the stories of those that live on as the survivors, struggling in the face of psychological scars – clutching their next of kin, and finding the will to live on in spite of heavy grief. This is perhaps the more significant story in any terrorist act – with no intention of implying that the person who has been cheated of life is trivial. But the courage of any one these individuals, in whatever manner they have managed to muster the internal fortitude to conquer the aftermath of terrorism, is a story perhaps best stated in a good novel. However, living in every corner of the world, they trudge through life – for the most part unnoticed and unrecognized. Survivors of those that have perished in Beirut, Lockerbie, Domodedovo, or Madrid – their stories are often epic when told, and worthy of note. With this article, we shed light on one such person – a widow whose story literally stretches across continents, numerous years and a variety of cultures.

Born and raised in the friendly and often frigid State of Michigan, June Spitler traces her roots back to the small town of Tecumseh, located just across the state line from Ohio and named after the famous leader of the Shawnee. Born in the Roaring Twenties, she is a member of perhaps the noblest and bravest generation in the history of the United States – weathering the hardships of the Great Depression, waging and winning a world war, and providing the leadership that ushered in the prosperity so many Americans take for granted at this time. June grew up in the midst of blizzards, lush fields of Michigan sweet corn, and frequent visits to her cousins in nearby Macon. A bright student, she progressed through school without trouble, graduating in Butler, Pennsylvania because the depression had briefly drawn her father there for work. However, she soon returned to her hometown and resumed her companionship with her best friend, Jane Clark – whose father had recently passed away due to heart problems. In her quest to find a husband, June did not have to look very far, since she married her best friend’s brother, Jim Clark, in the very tranquil year of 1940. As was typical for Tecumseh, Michigan, her newfound husband eventually took employment with Tecumseh Products, a manufacturing plant known worldwide as the producer of the first hermetically sealed compressor for refrigerators, as well as the world’s first window air conditioner. Returning home from church on December 7, 1941, the young couple turned on the radio to hear the shocking news that would change their lives forever and send the young housewife on a lifelong journey she had never imagined – the Japanese Empire had just bombed the U. S. Pacific Fleet as it lay anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Young Couple

Like many young men of his generation, Jim Clark entered the military the very next day – enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps and eventually receiving his wings at a ceremony in Altus, Oklahoma. Throughout his training, June followed her husband – fulfilling the role of “Rosie the Riveter,” looking after their 2 young sons, growing a Victory Garden, and performing the duties of a military wife. June stood with mixed emotions as she watched her young husband receive his pilot’s wings – pride at his accomplishment and dread of the possible implications it could mean for his life. Her deepest fears were realized during the last year of the conflict, when – along with other pilots of the Army Air Corps – he received orders for duty that would almost ensure his death. With the surrender of Germany, the Roosevelt Administration turned its full attention to plans that had already been on the planning board for quite some time. Codenamed “Operation Downfall,” the ultimate assault in the Pacific called for a massive and complicated invasion of the Japanese homeland, involving hundreds of Army Air Corps pilots that would come in low over the ocean, evading Japanese radar and flying straight into the jaws of entrenched anti-aircraft fire – with intentions of bombing and strafing communication centers, factories, railroads and other locations vital to the defense of the country. The final leg of his training for this air assault on Japan brought Jim Clark to Austin, Texas, where June remembers long Sunday afternoon drives – through winding country roads – to the Stagecoach Inn in Salado, Texas. An eerie pale of dread and impending death hung over these Sunday trips, June remembers years later, “because we both knew Jim was going to die.” However, the sudden announcement of the dropping of 2 atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan provided a reprieve for Jim Clark and thousands of other American men who would have most certainly died in a full scale invasion. In the mind of June Clark, it was one of several times that God spared the life of her husband.

Osaka san

Osaka san With June’s Oldest Children – Circa 1947 (Click for Larger Photo)

As fate would have it, Jim Clark became one of the initial military personnel to “occupy” the island nation of Japan following the official surrender that occurred on September 2, 1945. With her 2 young sons in tow, June boarded a tossing and turning naval transport in 1946 and rushed to be at her husband’s side, personally witnessing the aftermath of the atomic blast over Hiroshima. During the following years, she grew to deeply appreciate the Japanese people and their culture, a fact that would be evident in her artwork decades later. To this day, June still carries a wallet-sized photo of the family maid and nanny, Osaka san, with whom she developed a deep and unforgettable friendship. When her husband chose to make a career of military service, June soon found herself bound from one military base to another – and along the way, she gave birth to 6 more children. This vagabond military life led to stops at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, the Pacific island of Guam, Westover Air Force Base in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Torrejón Strategic Air Command Base located on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain. At each step of the journey, June proudly watched her husband assume greater responsibility and higher rank. Throughout the years following their departure from Japan, Jim Clark piloted the C-47, a heavily used and highly reliable transport cargo plane – also affectionately known in the military as the “Gooney Bird.” While flying a mission from Spokane, Washington to Alaska, he once again experienced a life-threatening event when weather related engine trouble forced him to land his airplane on a frozen Canadian lake. Throughout the remaining 1940s and 1950s, June balanced the role of officer’s wife and mother as the Cold War grew increasingly more intense and nuclear warfare always seemed imminent.

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You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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