Under the hot morning sun, Madison Stepanchick took a yellow sponge and began wiping down the cutout of a service member.
The white, soapy water shone on the deep onyx color of the monument dedicated to Gold Star families.
Madison, 6, was one of the volunteers who spent their Saturday morning beautifying the grounds around the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument off of MD 450 in Annapolis.
Volunteers, including Madison, her 4-year-old brother Austin and mother, Stephanie Stepanchick, cleaned the monument, planted flowers around it and weeded the grounds around it.
It was the official launch of the beautification of the monument, a project out of the partnership of the Woody Williams Foundation, which places Gold Star family memorials in communities, including the Annapolis one, and the Travis Manion Foundation, which honors Naval Academy alumnus 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who died in 2007. The project is supported by the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs.
It is an ongoing project, said Michael Desmond, senior manager for the Travis Manion Foundation. Depending on community involvement, the organizations will lead volunteers through cleanups at least every six months.
The Woody Williams Foundation dedicated the monument in 2016, said George Owings, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs for Maryland.
The dedication is just the first step, said Chad Graham, Williams’ grandson. With the monument in place, it is up to the community to keep it in good condition, which is what the volunteers were doing Saturday.
Monuments like the Annapolis one help people remember who lost their lives in service of the country. In the military community there is a saying that a service member can die twice. Once when they first die, and once again when people forget them.
“We need to say their names,” Graham said.
The monument serves as more than a reminder of the lost service member. It also acknowledges that there is a family behind them who also sacrificed, said Janice Chance, a chaplain with and former president of Maryland Gold Star Mothers.
Chance lost her son Capt. Jesse Melton III in September 2008. For families who lost loved ones in service, every day is Memorial Day, she said.
“This will always be a visual reminder that freedom is not free,” Chance said of the monument.
Chance knew she could have let sadness take over her life, she said, but she decided she wanted to serve in her community, as a way to keep moving forward.
“You’re healing through service to others,” she said.
As a Marine Corps veteran, Desmond knows what it is like to lose people while serving. Being part of the Travis Manion Foundation and meeting relatives of lost service members helped him heal.
For people who have not lost someone, it is a chance to learn about service members and their families, he said.
That is partly why Adam Brochetti, a Marine Corps veteran and Naval Academy alumnus, brought his daughter Scarlett, 8. The two of them were weeding by the entrance to the monument.
Brochetti graduated in 2006 from the academy and had wrestled with Manion, who graduated two years earlier. He wanted his daughter to understand that when people go to serve, they do not always return home.
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Scarlett did not know what a Gold Star family was until Saturday, she said. It was good that people took time out of their day to help at a place remembering people who have passed.
And it felt good to help the community, she said.
Brochetti’s academy classmate Lt. Cmdr. Josh Angichiodo also brought his daughter, Juliet, 7, to volunteer. In addition to Angichiodo and Brochetti, there were three other members of the class of 2006 volunteering Saturday.
Angichiodo wanted his daughter to see others helping the community to inspire her to continue to volunteer, he said. Plus it is always good to take time out of his day to help out.
The class of 2006 has lost some of its members, so Angichiodo understands the importance of the memorial and the space.
It’s hallowed ground, Desmond said.
“To me, these flowers are the stained glass. These benches are the pews,” he said. “It’s all in service and in memory of those who have fallen and the families that have borne sacrifice.”