Opinion, WVPA Sharing

Column: W.Va. Gold Star Mothers dedicate ‘Living Memorial Apple Orchard’ in Nicholas County

By Matty Mae Buckner

For the WV Press Association

Editor’s Note: This article about the Gold Star Mothers was written by Matty Mae Buckner. Matty is 13 and in 8th grade at Nicholas County Middle School.

MT. NEBO, W.Va. – When we hear about war, we seldom consider the depths of it. The cost of war and being in battle is very high, yet the most horrific aspects of war are the lives sacrificed for freedom. When a soldier passes, the families are left with such a void. It’s hard to put into perspective the magnitude of the loss. Families often feel compelled to continue the act of service in memory of their child.  

Matty Mae Buckner

In 1928, one mother, Grace Darling Seibold, did just this. After she learned of the passing of her son, George, she vowed to help others. Through her pain and grief, she started and organized a group consisting solely of mothers. The group became known as Gold Star Mothers – a private non-profit organization that honors fallen soldiers. This close-knit group of women are dedicated to the memory of their sons and daughters, and they strive to keep us, the community, from forgetting the high price of freedom.

The mountain state is fortunate to have its very own chapter of these special mothers (WVGSM), and they are active on many fronts. Based in Charleston, the local chapter made its way to Mt. Nebo on Sunday for a “Living Memorial Apple Tree” dedication, and I was honored to be present. Nothing short of beautiful, the venue – which features 55 different apple trees representing West Virginia’s 55 counties – is an ideal spot for quiet meditation and remembrance. 

WVGSM President Terry Cunningham addresses the crowd during the Gold Star Mother Apple Orchard dedication in Mt. Nebo.

Those in attendance were the Nicholas County High School JROTC, Girl Scout Troop 10404, WVGSM President Terry Cunningham, W.Va. Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt, Nicholas County Commissioners Garrett Cole and Craig Chapman, Summersville Mayor Robert Shaffer, Del. Heather Tully, R-Nicholas, and Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, along with many community members.  Local business owner Steve Brown – who’s land donation is now home to the memorial – served as Master of Ceremonies.

Brown explained that local students and community members help to plant the apple trees, and they will be a living reminder for many years to come.  

Kent Leonhardt commented,  “I think today went great. It’s been a wonderful day; we are up to six or seven counties now with living memorials.  Most are apple trees and it’s about the fruit that bears from all of this.”

W.Va. Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt addresses the crowd during the Gold Star Mother Apple Orchard dedication in Mt. Nebo.

The local girl scout troop opened the ceremony with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the NCHS JROTC “posting of the colors.” Each mother stood and said their child/children’s names and the date they died in service. Tears were shed and many “Amens” were heard from those in attendance.  

Terry Cunningham spoke about how these soldiers, in some ways, die twice – once in service and again if they are not remembered. 

At the conclusion of the dedication ceremony, those in attendance were invited to place memorial dog tags on the newly planted trees.

Community members inspect the newly-planted “Living Memorial Apple Tree Orchard” in Mt. Nebo.

The Gold Star Mothers went first, each hanging their son’s or daughter’s tag on the wire cage that protected the tree. Few words were spoken during this process; however, their hearts were surely simultaneously filled with pain and pride. 

It was very humbling to hold that tag, to feel its weight and read the name. Each one represents a life, a family, and a hero. I watched as all those in attendance carefully hung the tags – lingering and just reflecting upon life. I realized at that moment that this is the price of freedom.  

My parents told me the story of a local hero that died in Iraq. His mother, Janie Richardson, was present during the dedication. As she stood and spoke her son’s name, almost everyone there bowed their heads in respect.  Marine Cpl Bryan J. Richardson, a native of Mt. Nebo, died on March 25, 2005, by enemy action in Anbar province, Iraq. He was 23 years old.  His life may have ended on foreign soil, but his legacy will forever thrive and grow here, in his hometown. As will the lives of other sons and daughters – as long as the Gold Star Mothers remain. 

The ceremony ended with a moving 21-gun salute from our very own Nicholas County Honor Guard. 

As I reflect on this event, I consider it a core memory in my life.  I am only 13 but I understand that our flag and our country were founded upon Godly principles and that brave men and women fight daily to keep us safe and free.  I am thankful for those who served in the past and present, and for those who will answer the call in the future. I know when I see a veteran now, I will do my best to convey to them my appreciation. They deserve our respect and gratitude.  

The Living Memorial Apple Tree Orchard is located on Rt. 19 in Mt. Nebo, directly across from the Tractor Bar. It will be maintained by the students of Nicholas County High School, and the apples will be used for fundraisers and other community needs.