Aug 30 2021
Jason Piccolo | Townhall
On August 26, 2021, a terrorist struck military and civilian targets in Kabul, Afghanistan. Instant notifications of this horrific terrorist attack went out through social media with news that a massive explosion went off. The families of those thousands deployed waited to hear the news if their loved one was hurt, or even worse, killed. Thirteen families' lives were changed that day. Thirteen service members were killed, thirteen Gold Stars borne from their deaths.
What does the Gold Star represent? So many outside the families and friends do not know. A Gold Star banner or flag is flown by a family that lost a loved one to hostility or war. So many thousands of Gold Star banners generated from this almost twenty-year Global War on Terrorism.
No family wants to be designated with a Gold Star. Debbie Lee lost her son, Navy SEAL Marc Lee, in Iraq. Debbie said, "Being a Gold Star family member is nothing you want to aspire to be. It is one of the most difficult titles I ever had. But, on the other hand, it is probably one of the noblest, honorable titles to have, but not for me, but for my son. My son stood willingly in the line of fire three times that day, sacrificing his life to protect his teammates. People need to know a name; they are not just numbers."
The withdrawal in Afghanistan is particularly tough on the families. I recently spoke to Gold Star spouse Michelle Black. Michelle lost her Green Beret husband Bryan in 2017 during an ambush in Niger, Africa, "With the 20 years approaching, it is hard to watch us pull out of Afghanistan. So many friends of mine lost their spouses there, and now the country is in upheaval again. It is disheartening to be left with the feeling that we walked away accepting defeat to a cause our husbands and so many have given their lives to. How do we convince our children that their dads fought the bad guys and died for a good cause as we now walk away in defeat? While this a simplified version of us leaving Afghanistan, to a child, that is how it seems."
For the journey ahead, families may seem lost. Mandi Bennett understands what the families are going through. Mandi lost her husband, EOD Tech Wade Bennett, in 2012. Mandi said, "It's hard to put into words for people to comprehend when they haven't been through it. I am glad that more people don't understand. The families' lives will never be the same. There are children that will grow up without a parent. I can understand that since I was in that same boat trying to figure out being a parent without your partner, your best friend. First, your life shattered, then living without your partner. It is a journey I'm still trying to figure out. It's been nine years, and we're just starting to deal with the grief. My daughter has been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, and depression, all from losing her dad."
Many Gold Star Families will find a mission. With the loss of Marc, Debbie rose up and launched a mission to help Gold Star Families. Debbie said, "I put on Marc's boots, picked up his weapon, and stayed in the fight for troops, veterans, and other Gold Star Families. Marc was redeployed to heaven on August 2, 2006; he continues to change lives around the world in an amazing way."
There are resources out there, from support groups to organizations, to bring Gold Star Families together. Alex Nauert, Director of Programs at the Woody Williams Foundation's Gold Star Families Memorial Monument program. The foundation is working to install Gold Star Memorials throughout the Nation to bring families together. Alex described the monument, "It is a symbol of appreciation and gratitude to the families that have also sacrificed for this country. Rightfully so, we focus on the service members who lost their lives, and the families are often forgotten. The monument paints the narrative to bring awareness and education to our Nation in honor of what a Gold Star family is."
Our Nation must never forget those lost, and we do everything we can to lift up and support our Nation's Gold Star Families. When the news cycle has completed, the fundraising ended, the interviews are over, these families will be going through an indescribable emotional rollercoaster. We must help Gold Star Families when we can and however we can. They have earned a title that no family wants. We owe them.