The father stands with eyes closed. His folded arms embrace an American flag.
In stark black and gray granite, at 8½-feet tall from the base to the top of the 6-foot tall Gold Star Father, the statue sends a somber message that most families in America never hear or experience.
The statue represents all fathers who have lost a child at war.
What officials at the Ohio Veterans’ Memorial Park believe to be the first Gold Star Father statue in the country will be unveiled about 3 p.m. Saturday, the fifth anniversary of the park at 8005 Cleveland-Massillon Road in Clinton.
“It tells our story,” said Scott Warner, 50, of Canton, the father of Marine Pvt. Heath Warner, who was killed in Iraq in 2006.
Warner, author of the autobiography Gold Star Father — his story of dealing with the loss of his son — suggested to park officials that they consider adding a statue depicting the father of a fallen service member to join the Gold Star Mother statue erected at the park in 2009.
Ken Noon, a member of the park’s board of trustees and owner of Summit Memorials, which made both statues, said the father statue was based on an image from the front of Warner’s book.
The statue was funded by a $15,000 grant, as was the mother statue, from the Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation, park secretary Sharon Kerechanin said.
“It is so beautiful,” Kerechanin said as she and Warner first saw the finished statue last month.
Park President Ray Arnold, 67, an Army Vietnam veteran, said it was difficult to describe the statue as he saw it for the first time.
“It tears you up,” he said. “Fathers suffer so much sorrow.”
Chuck Nicholas, a 70-year-old Navy veteran from Barberton and a member of the park board, used one word to describe the statue: “Unbelievable.”
The statue will be put in place before Saturday but kept covered until its official dedication as part of the park’s 3095 Plus Freedom Ride fundraising event marking the fifth anniversary.
Ohio Veterans’ Memorial Park features a wall with the names of all 3,095 Ohioans killed in Vietnam and the names of 308 Ohioans killed in Beirut, the Gulf War or wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also at the park is a POW-MIA Reflection Pond and a “first of its kind Purple Heart Memorial,” Noon said.
A bench funded by the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 699 also will be dedicated Saturday.
Noon and Kerechanin said their research found no other statue dedicated to Gold Star Fathers in the country.
“It just hits at your heart,” said Carol Parker Park, of Barberton, a member of the board whose late father, Homer Parker, was a Pearl Harbor Army Air Corps survivor. Her husband, Jack Park is a Vietnam veteran.
The statue includes an inscription from the poem A Gold Star Father, written by Kay A. McNaul of Mansfield. Among the lines are:
“His child grown and gone to war
Then the call. “Home no more”
The memories of so many years
Mingle with happy times and tears
Scott Warner adopted Heath at age 4, when he and the boy’s mother, Melissa, were married.
He said the statue conveys what he and other Gold Star family members feel when they learned they have lost a son or daughter.
“You are in your own place,” he said. “You are both trying to find a way forward. It also captures that we are all stuck in a moment in time.”
Having the statue so focused on holding the flag is important, he said.
“When you receive that flag in your arms and all those feelings — pain and honor and sadness — come together at one point, that is the story of the statue,” he said. “It is all about honor and love, and we will never forget.”