Gold Star Families – When a Loved One Dies in Combat

Posted on June 29, 2010

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>>        What is the “Gold Star”?  Who authorized the “Gold Star” ?  Who is eligible to become a “Gold Star” family member?  Why is the “Gold Star” program so important? Who can you contact to join the “Gold Star” family program?

Public Law 534 – 89th Congress, directs the design and distribution of a lapel button, to the known as the “Gold Star Lapel Button,” to identify widows, parents and next of kin of members of the Armed Forces of the United States who lost their lives:

(1) During World War I, April 6, 1917 to March 3, 1921;

(2) During World War II, September 8, 1939 to July 25, 1947;

(3) During any subsequent period of armed hostilities in which the United States was engaged before July 1, 1958 (United Nations action in Korea, June 27, 1950 to July 27, 1954);

(4) After June 30, 1958 (a) while engaged in an action against an enemy of

the United States; (b) while engaged in military operations involving

conflict with an opposing foreign force; (c) while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged

in an armed conflict in which the United States is not a belligerent party against an opposing armed force.*

The law provides that one Gold Star Lapel Button will be furnished, without cost, to the widow and to each of the parents and the next of kin. The term “widow” includes widower; the term “parents” includes mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, mother through adoption, father through adoption, and foster parents who stood in  loco-parentis; the term “next of kin” includes only children, brothers, sisters, half brothers, and half sisters; and the term “children” includes stepchildren and children through adoption.

The law further provides that not more than one Gold Star Lapel Button may be furnished to any one individual except that, when a Gold Star Lapel Button furnished under this section has been lost, destroyed, or rendered unfit for use without fault or neglect on the part of the person to whom it was furnished, the button may be replaced upon application and payment of an amount sufficient to cover the cost of manufacture and distribution.

The “Gold Star” Family Program is open to Fathers, Mothers, Wifes, children, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and now Husbands of our brave Men and women who have sacrificed their lives in service to our country.

 Every military service has a Gold Star Representative. Usually you can find a link to one within the Division your loved one belongs to. I said belongs to because as a Fallen Comrade you are never out of the hearts and minds of those you served with. almost every state now has a Gold Star License Plate.

The 1st of the 9th’s representative is Julie Kink. Her brother David’s helicopter crashed on July 21, 1969. David died on the 3rd of August as a result of that crash. The two other men, SP/4 Edward Dennull and Capt John Anderson  died instantly. David was 19 years old. Edward was 18 years old and Captain Anderson was 20 years old.

 Recently 3 members of the Minnesota National Guard were killed in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Upon hearing the news Julie and other members of a veteran group sprung into action. The following was written by Julie:

  Minnesota is mourning the loss of three National Guardsmen tonight.

 SPC Daniel P. Drevnick, Age 22, of Woodbury, SPC James Wertish, Age 20, of Olivia and SPC Carlos E. Wilcox IV, Age 27, of Cottage Grove were killed Thursday night in a rocket attack in Basra, Iraq. They were part of the 34th Military Police Company “Red Bulls,” 34th Infantry, based in Stillwater.

 This afternoon, word came that another Minnesotan had fallen. Capt. Thomas J. Gramith, 27, died in an F-15E crash in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom. He was assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron.

 There is a report of a fifth Minnesota death in yet another incident.

 The Yellow Ribbon Network of Washington County (Minnesota) quickly organized a pancake breakfast this morning at the Stillwater American Legion, and a silent vigil that was held at 6 pm tonight at our Stillwater Veterans Memorial. While church bells chimed the hour, community members who had just heard about the deaths hours before gathered – more than 500 of them – to honor and support these young men and their families. I was told that the families were stuck at Dover Air Force Base and were unable to attend the vigil.

I and some other Veterans Memorial Board members and volunteers spent most of the afternoon readying the site, pulling weeds and cleaning up for the quickly organized event that would bring news cameras from all the major Minneapolis/St. Paul networks to our Veterans Memorial. The question that was most on my mind was, will any of these families be here tonight? It made me uncomfortable to think about it.

 “I can deal with Vietnam and all those old losses every day, and I do,” I told one of the volunteers. “But these current-day families are my heroes. I’m in awe of them and I’m at a loss for what to even say to them.”

 And it’s true, I’ve been thinking too much lately of the pain of certain anniversary dates, and no matter how much the mind prepares for these milestones, the heart can become so easily consumed by an unexpressable longing and sadness. This Tuesday, it will be 40 years since my brother, his AC and gunner crashed in Phuoc Vinh, Vietnam. It was July 21, 1969, the day after man first walked on the moon. Those two milestones – one personal and one national – have been inextricably linked in my mind since I was eight years old, long before I realized how much my life changed on that day.

 Every time I see something about the moon landing, I think of those three young men, two of whom lost their lives that day, while my brother died 12 days later.

One of the organizers of tonight’s vigil told me quietly that the media wasn’t told, but some family members of Spc. Wilcox were in attendance. He pointed out Wilcox’s sister to me, a young African-American woman wearing dark sunglasses accompanied by a young man and two other young women. My heart ached for this family who had lost their brother less than three days ago, and had the strength and courage to attend a vigil held in his honor, to see the flags, the ribbons, and see the four vases of yellow flowers on the table near the Memorial, each propping up a framed photo of the young man with his name and unit, each with a basket that attendees were filling with note cards on which they were writing spur-of-the-moment condolences to be given to the families.

Thus a very public show of support swallowed up a very private, intense young grief. Most did not know they were in our midst. What great courage it must have taken to come to this event and stand strong yet anonymous during this tremendous outpouring of sadness and support.

I wanted to tell the sister that she wasn’t alone, that the hurt doesn’t go away but it changes, that she will survive and that her brother will remain in her life, looking down on her from heaven and guiding her at times when she may need it the most. I wanted to tell her so much. Yet I had no idea how to even walk up to her or what to say. “I’m a ‘tree-line’ vet,” I thought to myself, circling around the little family group trying to get my courage up to approach them. This is what’s hardest for me. I feel so thoroughly inadequate with a loss so new and raw.

Finally I stood near her for a couple of minutes while she finished talking with another young woman, then pardoned myself and said something I can’t even remember now. “I’m a Gold Star Sister too,” I told her. I took off the little Gold Star banner pin I was wearing and give it to her. “May I give you this Gold Star pin?” I asked.

 She or one of the other family members seemed confused and asked about it. “All this is new to me,” she said, “is that what the Gold Star is?”

 “It means you lost someone,” I said, while she fumbled with the pin and pinned it onto her purse. “I lost my brother too, 40 years ago. Your brother is looking down on you now and very proud of your courage coming here,” I said. “We are all part of the same family.”

 Walking away I realized what a difference 40 years makes. Of course she doesn’t know what a Gold Star is, I thought. She’s only three days into a journey that has taken a lifetime for me. How much she has to learn. I wished I could turn back the clock, for both of us.

 At times, I wish I didn’t know what a Gold Star is, either.

 Little sister, Julie Kink sister of WO David Kink C Trp 1/9th CAV KIA 8-3-1969

The Gold Star Family is just that a Family. It people helping people during the worst time of their lives. If you are a family member who has lost a loved one during an armed conflict,  reach out and become a Gold Star Family Member. It is never to late.

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