Colleen Katzenberger

What Memorial Day means to me: A Gold Star spouse shares her thoughts

May 24, 2019 - 10:10 am

by Colleen Katzenberger, Special to 

Growing up, Memorial Day Weekend was always one of my favorite holidays. The weekend normally included my birthday, the end of the school year, the opening of pool season, sunny weather, and a ton of barbeque parties. I would hear that Memorial Day was about remembering our fallen military members, but I had little comprehension of the magnitude or importance of remembering these great American Legends.

It wasn’t until 2005 when I became an Army Ranger Wife that the idea of fallen military members became a real concept to me. Prior to that, the idea of men and women sacrificing their lives was a concept known through Hollywood. Over the next few years, I would send my husband off to war and pray diligently for his return numerous times. I came to have some understanding of the sacrifice war can have on families. My husband was on his fourth deployment in 2009 when I received a phone call from our Family Readiness Group that turned a nightmare into reality for many of the men I knew in 1st Ranger Battalion.

The unit had suffered their first causality in 6 years. All of a sudden, the ripples of a Ranger paying the ultimate sacrifice was felt throughout my community and family.

The fear. The sadness. The reality of death was felt so strongly, I still get tears in my eyes going back to that place in time. I remember the talks with other wives as we awaited the return of our husbands’ unit. This was my first lesson in learning that death doesn’t stop the world. The hustle and bustle for those still living continues. My husband returned from that deployment and, despite the sadness and fear, life continued.

Colleen Katzenberger Coursey

In fact, my husband, Staff Sergeant Jeremy A. Katzenberger, and I welcomed our son, Everett, into the world in October of 2010. Jeremy was brought home early from his seventh deployment to witness his birth. Parenthood was my favorite adventure with Jeremy. Four and a half months later, Jeremy’s company surged and he left on his eighth deployment. I’ll never forget the night he left. We had grown accustomed to the goodbyes of war, but there was something different this time. Jeremy wasn’t just saying goodbye to me, he was also saying goodbye to Everett. It was the most gut-wrenching goodbye of his military career.

And, it would be his last. On June 14th, 2011 I found out Jeremy had been killed in a heavy firefight in the Paktika Providence of Afghanistan. My worst nightmare, the distance fear, was now my reality. I was 26 years old. Every hope and dream Jeremy and I had built together came crashing down by a single sentence read by a man in dress uniform. Everett would grow up not knowing his father. The deafening feeling of the sadness that surrounded me in that moment still makes my heart stop. The tears burn my eyes. And I find myself wanting to escape to a time when death and grief wasn’t a part of my daily life.

Colleen Katzenberger Coursey

It's been eight years of putting the pieces of my life together without Jeremy. I have been surrounded with love and support from the most amazing people, everyone from family to complete strangers. In those eight years, I’ve poured into raising an amazing son, started a new career as a high school teacher, and planted roots in Jeremy and my hometown again. The hustle and bustle of my life has continued. But, my pain and grief for Jeremy has also continued. I once explained to someone that the pain never goes away, you just learn to live with it. In fact, the pain has become a familiar part of my story over the past eight years. 

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affair (2017), there are almost 14,000 children and 388,000 spouses that have learned to live with the pain of burying their loved one from serving in our military.

My story is just one of thousands that can tell you about the grief of loving a service member that paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country. The less than 0.5% that paid the price for you to enjoy your American freedoms this weekend. I once asked Jeremy if it frustrated him that most American’s seem to take for granted the country we live in. He humbly responded, “Not at all. I fight so Americans don’t have to think twice about their freedom.” He was that kind of a man. And, I miss him. 

But, this weekend, I ask that you think twice about your freedoms. I ask that at 3 p.m. on Monday (the designated National Moment of Remembrance by our government) you stop to honor a fallen service member. If you don’t know one personally, you can visit Honor the Fallen to look at the overwhelming list of names that have died defending your freedom to celebrate this weekend.

Because, this is the other thing I know, Babe Ruth’s words in Sandlot are true. He said “…there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” When Everett and I attend memorial events and hear people honoring his dad, Jeremy is more than a hero to Everett, he’s a legend to many.

Everett and I see Jeremy living on in the hearts of those that remember him. I often have people that never knew Jeremy tell me that they feel they knew him due to the stories they’ve heard. My hero has become a legend over the past eight years at a very high price. Help keep the legend of our service members alive this weekend by making the choice to honor them. Help your children understand the sacrifice by putting a name to the concept of Memorial Day. Raise your glasses to the real reason you have a short work week. I know it would mean a lot to this Gold Star Family.

Colleen Katzenberger is a Gold Star Spouse. Her husband Staff Sgt Jeremy Katzenberger was killed on  June 14th, 2011 in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan while serving with the 1st Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment.  She currently lives in Missouri where she is a high school biology teacher. As Folds of Honor scholarship recipient, she now travels the country to speak about the organization and share her story.