By G. A. Volb
Fort Irwin Public Affairs
In an ongoing effort to ensure members of the Fort Irwin community recognize the sacrifices of those who serve, “A Day of Gratitude” was observed Nov. 25 honoring local Gold Star Families, first responders and Soldiers.
The day began with a Gold Star banner presentation to family members who lost loved ones during service to the nation, and continued with a “Thanksgiving” lunch, visit to the Fort Irwin Museum and entertainment shared by Gold Star families with current Soldiers.
By honoring these patriots, we hope to continue the legacy of support for those who sacrificed so much and those who continue to serve, said sponsors of the event. We want it to serve as a lasting tribute to those families who lost a loved one while serving our nation – for them to know that we will never forget.
The history of the Gold Star program dates back to August 1947. It was then that Congress enacted Public Law 80-306 establishing the Gold Star Lapel Button for the public identification of the direct next of kin to military members of the Armed Forces of the United States who lost their lives in wars. The button, consisting of a gold star on a purple circular background bordered in gold and surrounded by gold laurel leaves, is furnished without cost to each widow or widower, including parents, children, and brothers/sisters.
Teresa Bullock, a Blue Star and Gold Star mother, said “this event is one of the few such events I’ve attended. Fort Irwin has made an effort over the last few years in southern California to reach out to families, inviting us to concerts and to take tours. It really means a lot to us just to be with the (Soldiers) – and hug them.”
Bullock’s two sons served, her oldest, SSgt. Christopher Webb, served in Iraq and lost his life March 7, 2007 while trying to rid a village of IEDs (improvised explosive devises) prior to a local event so villagers could hold it safely. Blue Star Mothers are those who have children currently serving or who have served and honorably discharged. Bullock, herself, is a veteran.
“This is why our Survivor’s Outreach Services is so important,” said Lori Picard, Fort Irwin’s Survivors Outreach Services Coordinator. “It allows these families the opportunity to stay connected to their Army family.”
Annie Nelson, of the American Soldier Network, agreed: “There is a big disconnect in our country today between Americans and our military and veterans. That includes the families and families of our fallen. It is long overdue that all of the organizations that claim to support our heroes do whatever they can to help bridge that gap, raise awareness, ensure that no veteran, military member nor their families feel that they are every forgotten or not appreciated. Freedom is not free and we as a nation must always recognize that and show our gratitude whenever we get the chance.”
Nelson pointed out that the “Day of Gratitude” focus isn’t limited to mothers and fathers who lost children in service to the nation, but includes recognizing grandparents, spouses and children as well.
“I personally had men I knew lost in the battle of Fallujah, and as my journey with my own starting the American Soldier Network I have buried many fallen heroes from battles in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as from the invisible wounds that kill here at home,” said Nelson. “So for me spending time and helping the healing process is very personal.”
Closer to home, two of Fort Irwin’s younger Soldiers shared similar sentiments.
“My uncle was a squad leader in Vietnam,” said Spec. Zachary Brooks, 22, of Ash County North Carolina and Soldier with Irwin’s Medical Command. “He was wounded, but told those above him to make sure the other wounded got out first, so he waited on the second helicopter while others were evacuated.”
His uncle, Cpl Ed Pierce, died while waiting on the second helicopter to arrive.
“Zach has been on the phone for months trying to make this happen for his family,” said his wife, Staff Sgt. Amber Brooks. “Ed was his mother’s only brother, so everything he gets here today he’s going to take back to North Carolina for his mother.”
Picard and SOS provide support to more than 500 families from San Bernardino to Los Angeles.
“It’s a great way for [families] to reconnect with other families who are in the same position,” emphasized Nelson. “Losing loved ones is difficult, but losing loved ones in war is a very different dynamic and grief, reuniting these families and allowing them a social time to be together and in a safe, upbeat, positive setting is all a part of the healing process.”