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Remembering Gold Star Mother's and Family's Day

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Elizabeth Clay
  • 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Group deputy commander
Did you know that if you are currently serving in the military, your moms and dads are called Blue Star parents? Many Blue Star families hang a service banner in their home window signifying the number of children that are serving in the military by the number of blue stars on the banner. However, if you die while serving in the military, that blue-colored star turns to the color of gold. Your family members are then designated as Gold Star moms and dads, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, grandmas and grandpas.

Since 1936, Gold Star Mother's Day is observed on the last Sunday in September. It originated during World War I, when families displayed small flags with a gold star in a window after the death of a loved one in the military service. By Presidential Proclamation, Gold Star Mother's and Family's Day and will be observed on Sunday, 29 Sept., 2013.

You're not alone if you didn't know this information. I just learned about Gold Star Families a few years ago.

In 2008, my husband and I were newly stationed in New Jersey at McGuire Air Force Base. We were driving around sightseeing one day when we decided to check out the Jersey Shore. It was recommended to us to visit Sea Girt National Guard Training Center. This is a popular place to go since it maintains one of the few free beaches on the N.J. coast. The critics were right; Sea Girt has beautiful beaches and camping facilities and definitely keeps you coming back. More importantly, something happened at Sea Girt that day that changed us forever. As my husband and I pulled into the gravel parking lot adjacent to the beach, we noticed the normal protocol signs for designated chief, colonel and general spots. But one parking sign caught our attention; it was one gold star. We had never seen this before and it stood out from all the other signs. We speculated about what we thought the one, lone gold star meant, but after realizing that we had no idea what it was, we went about our day at the beach.

About a week after that, my first sergeant, Senior Master Sgt. Bubba Beason invited me to go with him to meet with a Gold Star mom named Kristine Koch at the Military Entrance Processing Station at Fort Dix, N.J., where they were dedicating the swearing in room to her fallen son. I said "sure, I'll go" but, I asked him "what's a Gold Star mom?" "It's a mom who has lost a son or daughter in service to this country. Being a Gold Star mom is a noble club of which nobody wants to become a member," he said. That's when it hit me. I finally understood what that one, lone gold star parking sign at the beach stood for. I thought how neat that was for a military beach to put up a special sign to honor these special moms. At the same time, I also felt really embarrassed because I had let 37 years of my life pass before I ever knew what a Gold Star mom was. And I was ashamed because there I was, a commander in the United States Air Force, and I had not yet learned about that special group of moms. From that day on, my invitation from Bubba became a life changing moment that has motivated me and my husband to ensure that the memories of our fallen service members and their mothers and families are never forgotten.

There are over 6,000 service members who have died during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Dealing with death can make people nervous and during those first encounters with Gold Star Families sometimes it can get very personal and emotional. What do you say to a mother who has lost her child? I've had the privilege of participating in many events dedicated to remembering the fallen and their families. It's tough to start the conversation, but surprisingly, the meetings are never awkward; there just seems to be a bond between us and the moms found in the exchanges of hugs that create a sense of calmness. It's like the moms are saying, "it's okay, don't feel bad for me." But deep down, I know they are feeling so much pain, yet, they still love us and appreciate what we do.

I believe it is our duty to keep the memories of the fallen alive and honor their families. It doesn't take much. Most family members just appreciate that you showed up to an event to honor their loved one. My way of giving back usually deals with running. In fact, just this past weekend, the "CA Run for the Fallen," a non-profit organization I created, ran 150 miles over two and a half days through the state of California placing flags and a biography every mile to remember the state's 728 fallen service members and pay honor to their families. Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to go out and create a running event, but I do ask you, as you go about your day this Sunday, and every last Sunday in September, to please think about these Gold Star Families who have suffered the ultimate sacrifice by losing their loved ones in service to our country. Think about the father who will never get to walk his daughter down the aisle; think about the son who will never get to hear another bedtime story from his dad; think about the wife who will never kiss her husband again; think about the mother who will never get another phone call to say "I love you."

The President encourages all Americans to display the flag and hold appropriate ceremonies as a public expression of our Nation's sympathy and respect for our Gold Star Mothers and Families. You may never know of the impact that a chance meeting with a parent or a memorial event could have on your soul unless you go out and participate. You never know, it could be a life-changing moment. It was for me. What will you do?