ABERDEEN, Md. — Throughout our country’s history, many of America’s men and women in uniform have given their lives to protect our freedom and the freedom of oppressed people around the world. More than 7,000 American service members have been killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone since Sept. 11, 2001.
These fallen service members are the true definition of a hero. They were brave, capable, selfless embodiments of the Soldier Creed. Our Nation will forever be indebted to those who gave their lives to defend our peace and security.
When we remember our fallen service members, we must also honor the families and loved ones who carry on their legacies and preserve their memories. While we remember them every day, on one day in particular, we pay special tribute to these surviving families.
Traditionally, the last Sunday of September is designated as Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day: a day to honor and show our deepest gratitude to the surviving mothers and families of America’s fallen. These families of our fallen men and women in uniform understand the true and painful price of freedom.
Often called “the honor no one wants,” Gold Star Mothers and family members carry a difficult burden.
America can trace the Gold Star symbol back to World War I. At the start of U.S. involvement in 1917, families hung banners with blue stars representing family members in the services. If the service member died in combat, the family changed the blue star to gold. The family could display a Gold Star Service Flag for any military family members who died from any honorable cause – each gold star on the flag would signify a death. This has changed over the years since then, but the meaning behind the stars has remained.
Gold Star Mother’s and Family Day isn’t observed as a National, federal holiday like Memorial Day. However, it was declared by Congress in 1936 as “Gold Star Mother’s Day.”
Though today only around 1% of the country is involved in military service, as compared to the 12% during other times of war, like the 20th Century’s World Wars, there are still a significant number of surviving Gold Star Mothers and families – not to mention, a Gold Star lives on in a family’s legacy.
Gold Star parents and families have experienced a great loss, but their ties to the military community are everlasting.
As a spouse and a parent, I can only imagine the feelings of heartache and sense of emptiness from losing someone so dear.
As a lifelong Soldier, I cannot thank these families enough for the unimaginable sacrifice of their loved one while in the line of duty. Furthermore, as a leader of Soldiers, I truly admire their strength and perseverance.
Gold Star Mothers and families are respected members of our collective U.S. Army family, and we all owe them our gratitude.
I am truly grateful to be surrounded by such strong, dedicated families here in Aberdeen and the surrounding area. The installation has endured and thrived for the past 100 years, in part because of the patriotism, trust and awareness of the good people directly outside of our gates.
As the senior commander of Aberdeen Proving Ground, I pledge that as an installation we will always strive to honor the legacies of fallen service members. APG has a history of time-honored traditions associated with honoring fallen service members — none more special than APG’s Legacy Forest Memorial, symbolizing that the seeds of our love and appreciation for fallen servicemembers will be forever rooted at APG, and can continue to grow with the support of our community.
Our goal is to ensure that any Gold Star families within our surrounding communities feel completely guided, connected and supported by their Army family. From the moment they receive that knock on the door, APG will be there to help them through their journey of grief, remembrance and resiliency.
Through resources such as the APG Survivor Outreach Services (S.O.S.) program, we aim to give this special group a sense of peace by helping them through their healing process. Many Gold Star family members in our community have transformed their personal loss into a mission to act as community ambassadors uniquely equipped to comfort other families struggling with a similar loss.
The S.O.S. program is a holistic, multi-agency approach that is part of the Army’s larger effort to help and stay connected with families and friends of the fallen. These S.O.S. resources are available to families stationed on-post and off, to church groups, or to anyone who believes they are healing from the loss of a fallen service member, past or present.
At APG, we proudly stand alongside our Gold Star families to preserve the legacy of their fallen loved ones and pledge that their memories and their sacrifices will never be forgotten to history.
The Department of Defense and other agencies are also committed to helping survivors relieve financial stress and provide assistance with potentially difficult decision-making around the death of a service member. Some of the special honors and benefits they receive include, transportation, funeral and burial costs, healthcare, commissary and exchange access, education and counseling services. This is just part of America’s promise to never forget their loved one’s sacrifice.
Understanding their collective sacrifice and acknowledging the holiday are some of the best ways to support the families and honor the fallen service members.
Aberdeen Proving Ground and the people who call this community home have always understood what it means to both serve and make sacrifices for the greater good. APG has a history forged in innovative technological support to our warfighters – a testament to the commitment, dedication and character of both our people and our surrounding community.
This relationship between APG and those who have chosen to build their lives and raise their families just outside of our gates is essential to our ability to support our Soldiers and our Gold Star families.
Taking time to acknowledge our Gold Star community’s sacrifice on this holiday is one of the best ways to support these families and honor our fallen service members.
APG’s Gold Star community represents the best of America, and we are grateful for their courage.
We’re all truly honored to be connected to them and look forward to continuing support for the families of our best and bravest. I cannot thank this community enough for its steadfast commitment to our Army. Together, we will stand strong in ensuring that the memories of our fallen soldiers will never be forgotten.
On behalf of our entire installation and a grateful nation, we offer our gratitude to our Gold Star Mothers and Families.
People first, Winning matters, Army strong!
MG Robert Edmonson
Maj. Gen. Robert Edmonson II serves as the senior commander at Aberdeen Proving Ground.