ST. GEORGE — Through the dedicated efforts of St. George’s new mayor, Michele Randall, Southern Utah may soon become the second city in Utah to have a public memorial honoring Gold Star Families.
In August 2020, the city of North Ogden became the first to unveil a memorial in the Beehive State acknowledging the sacrifices families and friends have made in the death of a United States military service member.
For more than a century, a casual stroll through nearly every town in America could carry a person past reminder of the grim reality of service to country and the loss of life made in theaters of war: somber flags, not much larger than a dish towel, hung in the windows of homes.
The flags adorned with blue stars proudly acknowledged that it was the home of someone serving in the military.
If it was replaced by a gold star, the flag represented something much more – the death of a parent, husband or wife, son or daughter who gave the last full measure of devotion to support and defend the U.S. Constitution.
Although the flags have become a rarely seen symbol of the sacrifices families have made, monuments to honor the military dead and the Gold Star Families left behind are finding their way into public places throughout the country.
According to the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, there are currently 76 Gold Star Memorial monuments dedicated in 50 states and the territory of Guam with more than 50 in the planning phase – although some estimates put this number at more than 70, depending on the organization sponsoring a memorial.
Spearheading the effort for the next monument in Utah, slated to be placed on the west side of Town Square, is the first female mayor in St. George’s 159-year history.
“I have a son who was a Navy Seal,” Randall said. “He deployed twice and thank God he made it home, but many families weren’t as fortunate.”
The latest loss of a Utah-born-and-bred military member was United States Army Sgt. Bryan “Cooper” Mount, 25, killed in northeastern Syria on July 21, 2020 while on a security patrol.
Unlike some war memorials that list service member’s names, St. George’s memorial will honor the universality of all whose lives were lost. The black granite wall will acknowledge the virtue, dedication and sacrifice that the Gold Star Families have made.
Although the loss of her son is still fresh in memory, St. George resident Bronwyn Mount is pleased Randall is spearheading the effort to bring a Gold Star Memorial to Southern Utah.
“It will be a great honor,” Mount said. “We buried Cooper in Parowan – it’s where he grew up. Although it’s only an hour away, there are times I would like to have somewhere closer to go to remember his life. Having the memorial just down the street from where I work will be a nice place to go to be with him.”
Cooper Mount was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. He was killed while on a security patrol in northeastern Syria when his mine-resistant, ambush-protected, all-terrain vehicle rolled over. The exact causes of the incident are still under investigation.
At the time of his death, Mount was assigned as a cavalry scout with the division’s 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, where his “care-free, easygoing personality made him approachable and well-loved,” said his squadron commander, Lt. Col. Val Moro, in a 2020 interview with Stars and Stripes.
In high school, Cooper’s ambitions in life ran the gambit, from being a dentist to becoming a barber.
“This was what he wanted to do when he got out of the Army,” Bronwyn Mount said. “He wanted to have a cool barbershop.”
After high school, Cooper went to work for In-N-Out Burger where he eventually became the “Fry Guy.” While working at In-N-Out, Cooper met the love of his life, Michell. After dating and working together for a year, they were married Oct. 24, 2015.
Mount joined the Army in January 2016, where he deployed with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team to Iraq in 2017 during a nine-month battle to oust the Islamic State from Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.
After returning home, Cooper was making plans for a career outside the Army that also included his dream of opening a food truck, but the call to duty had other plans. He returned to northern Iraq and then deployed to Syria in 2020, where he served as a gunner protecting the paratroopers under his leadership.
Mount’s awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal with Combat device, Army Good Conduct Medal, Combat Action Badge and the Army Parachutist Badge.
According to Hope for the Warriors, in 2015, there were nearly 1.8 million family members who served alongside their active duty service member, and of that number, there were more than a million children and 641,639 spouses who were without their loved ones during deployment.
Ogden resident Jennie Taylor knows all too well the sacrifices military families have made, as she lost her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, in Afghanistan in 2018.
“I’m sad my husband is dead, but I am very proud that he stood up for what he believed in, not only for his own rights as an American but the rights of all mankind,” Taylor said. “My husband didn’t die to protect me and my kids … he was there fighting for the freedom of the Afghanistan people.”
On Nov. 3, 2018, a member of the Afghan National Security Forces opened fire on friendly units at a base near Kabul, where Taylor, a member of the Utah Army National Guard and other service members were helping to train the Afghan commando units.
Taylor was killed and another service member was injured. During the combat, other Afghan forces returned fire killing the gunman.
U.S. Intelligence failed to “act swiftly enough” against the “radicalization” of the commando who was being trained by Taylor, according to a report obtained through a public record request by the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden.
Taylor had served in the Utah Army National Guard for more than 15 years, of which at least seven years were on active duty.
He served two tours in Iraq, where he worked as a convoy security commander and later as an advisor to an Iraqi national intelligence agency, and another two tours in Afghanistan, where he worked as a combat advisor to the Afghan Border Police.
Because of his service, Taylor was a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.
Jennie Taylor was the driving force behind Utah’s first Gold Star Memorial.
“People need a gentle reminder of the sacrifice everyone makes, and that’s what these memorials are all about,” she said. “My hope is that someone else, someplace else sees the newspaper articles like the one in the St. George News and it creates a ripple effect to inspire other communities to put a memorial in their town.”
Since World War I, more than 623,000 service members have died in combat.
According to the United States Department of Defense, more than 7,000 Americans have been killed in combat during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since Sept. 11, 2001, with more than 16,000 military members dying of other causes.
The focus of Gold Star Memorials, Taylor said, is to preserve the memory of the loved ones lost and bring a degree of closure to the families and comfort to their communities knowing they have not been forgotten.
“Not everyone knows what a gold star means anymore,” Taylor said. “The idea of the monument is to start a conversation. My hope is people will see the monument … and remember. Let’s teach our children to respect and appreciate the fact that our servicemen and women are still dying to this day to protect freedom.”
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