The steps of Lakeview Commons were filled with American war veterans, family members of soldiers killed in action and supporters of United States troops, surrounded by a procession of red, white and blue flags Friday in South Lake Tahoe for the dedication of Gold Star Peak.
Gold Star Peak was named to commemorate local military servicemen who had died in the line of duty. The once-unnamed peak is now designated Gold Star Peak on U.S. Forest Service maps and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock of California’s 4th District initiated the memorial, as American Legion, U.S. Forest Service and community members helped speed the effort to establish the peak’s name.
“It means this community and this nation will never forget the sacrifice these young men made on behalf of our country, and we will never forget the sacrifice these families make every day,” McClintock said. “They set an example of citizenship and patriotism and sacrifice that the rest of us can only marvel at, be humbled by, and be inspired by.”
Family members of the fallen soldiers were given small plaques in recognition of their kin’s sacrifice. The Gold Star Peak name comes from the Gold Star Family Registry, where the names of soldiers killed in battle are listed.
The three area soldiers who were honored are Pfc. Phillip Brandon Williams, 21, who was killed Oct. 9, 2006, by a sniper’s bullet in Iraq; Sgt. Timothy Smith, 25, who died April 7, 2008, after his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad; and Spc. Garrett Fant, 21, who died Sept. 26, 2011, after his unit was attacked with an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
Williams’ father, Brad Williams, said he is glad the memorial can serve as a reminder of the acts his son exemplified in duty.
“I think about my son every day,” Williams said. “It is reassuring that people remember him. And when I look across the lake at that peak … I think every inch of that is free, and it’s free because of people like my son, Brandon, Tim, Garrett and the others that are out there right now.
Julie Farrell said she and her family spoke with McClintock before her other son deployed a month after Garrett was killed.
“It means everything,” Farrell said. “I’m extremely humbled. They got it together so soon.”
Smith’s mother, Patty Smith, said she never wants to let her son be forgotten, that she is very proud of him and always honored by what he wanted to do. Clad in her son’s vest, medals and dog tags, she helped gather flag-bearing supporters to march to the commons.
“He did love living in Lake Tahoe, and he was a very loving and compassionate person and a protector,” Smith said. “He just wanted to save the world and take care of everybody. He did so much for so many people who needed help. Even before he went into the army, he was that kind of person.”
Smith said she wants people to know about the Gold Star families, and although it’s not “a club you want to be part of,” she said, it still helps honor her son and other fallen soldiers.
The plaque is located at the base of the steps of Lakeview Commons, where on a clear day the peak is easily visible.