How we can best honor Gold Star families

Matt Saintsing
September 25, 2018 - 4:35 pm

Doug Hood

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There is perhaps no more impactful symbol for a military family than that of a gold star. To be a member of a Gold Star family is to have a child, spouse, parent, sibling, or other loved one who died in the military. 

To better educate the public about the true meaning behind a “Gold Star” experts, advocates and gold star family members themselves came together at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to offer eachother advice on how to best navigate the unwanted, unchartered waters of losing a loved one unexpectedly.

“What is most valuable is the peer connection,” said Bonnie Carroll, founder and president of Tragedy Assistance Providers for Survivors (TAPS). “Being with others who truly understood in a very personal way, because they were also walking this journey.” 

Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA

Her husband perished in an Army C-12 crash in 1992. 

“We do have a voice that people will listen to, and it’s important because we can speak for some of the veterans who aren’t able to,” said Becky Christmas, the National President of Gold Star Moms. Her son, Todd, died in a helicopter crash in late 2004 in Fort Hood, Texas. 

One way to get the message to the general public about the importance of gold star families is to erect monuments in their honor. “So many communities, they don’t know what a Gold Star family is,” said Chas Graham, president, and CEO of the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, a nonprofit that builds Gold Star Family memorial monuments.

“Every community needs to realize that Gold Star Families are living amongst them,” he said. Graham added 40 memorial monuments had been erected in 39 states across the country, with the hope to have 50 commemorative monuments by the end of the year. 

Gregg Pachkowski

He sees these monuments as a "launch pad” for anyone related to a fallen service member to talk to the broader population about their loved one’s life and sacrifice. 

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan being the focus in recent memory, it can be easy to lose sight of other families who lost their loved one before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. 

“Pre-9/11 families are sometimes left out,” said Maron Gunn, the mother of a sailor who perished during the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, Cherone Gunn. “Our family was torn apart, and I have three other sons…there’s very little out there for siblings.”  

The Defense Department and VA are never far out of reach when it comes to Gold Star spouses and children of the fallen, but sibling support is less than robust. Cherone’s sister, Jenine Melton, agreed with her mother’s assessment. 

“It’s very true,” said Jenine, Cherone’s sister. “There were not a lot of things out there.” But since, Jenine's been involved with a peer-mentor program with TAPS, where someone with similar loss partners with her. 

“TAPS has done an excellent job in establishing that program,” she adds. 

With each gold star, whether it be on a flag, bumper sticker, or magnet in somebody's home, it tells the story of the ultimate sacrifice that an American made. And behind every star is a family, who can share the memory of their fallen service member. We just have to ask

             Contact us about this article or share your story at gethelp@connectingvets.com.