Soldiers and members of the community joined more than 30 “Gold Star” family members Thursday morning at Fort Stewart’s Main Post Chapel for a candlelight vigil for America’s fallen service members.
The special service, which honored America’s fallen from all wars and conflicts, was sponsored by Stewart’s Survivor Outreach Services. This was the third year for the vigil that precedes Memorial Day observances.
“Just because their soldier has died doesn’t mean the Army will forget them,” SOS coordinator and program manager Cheryl Sowell said. “The significance of this (event) is that family members will see once again the Army still cares.”
As Sowell spoke, soldiers and families gathered in the chapel, where two large screens flashed photos of deceased service members from current and former conflicts. “We shall never forget” introduced each frame of heroes.
Sowell said SOS supports the survivors of deceased soldiers. As a former soldier and military spouse of a deployed soldier, she understands that families need to be assured the Army will keep its covenant with them. She said some family members who aren’t familiar with the military culture need to be made aware that they, too, are part of the bigger military family. The loss of one member is a loss to the whole family.
She said Stewart’s SOS is responsible for assisting the families of all active-duty and retired service members, essentially from Hinesville to Tallahassee, Fla. Families of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving on active duty are called Blue Star Families, but families whose loved one died while serving are call Gold Star Families. The mission of SOS is to assist and support Gold Star Families.
Col. Kevin Gregory, U.S. Army garrison commander for Stewart-Hunter, agreed with Sowell, calling the Army an extended family. He noted that SOS provides support for families and helps them retain their relationship with their extended Army family.
Guest speaker Col. Scott Jackson, 3rd Infantry Division chief of staff-rear, talked about the history behind Memorial Day and Gold Star Families. To reinforce what Memorial Day means to him, he remembered two soldiers with whom he’d served in Iraq in 2004-05. Capt. Chris Sullivan and Spc. Jose Velez were just ordinary men, not superheroes, he said, but they died as heroes nonetheless because of their willingness to sacrifice their lives to protect their fellow soldiers.
“Every Gold Star Family represents a family (that) has given someone that can never be replaced,” Jackson. said. “Memorial Day is a day to be thankful — thankful for the freedoms we have (but mostly) thankful for those willing to die to protect our freedom.”
Following his remarks, Jackson lit a candle, then the candles of four soldiers, who lit candles for the Gold Star Family members who gathered at the front of the chapel for a moment of silence. Following the candlelight vigil, everyone gathered outside in front of the chapel, where more than a dozen white doves were released.
As she watched the dove circle the chapel then fly away, Gold Star Family member Shanette Booker said the ceremony was important so her sons would remember their father, Staff Sgt. Andre Booker.
“This is my second memorial service for (my husband),” Booker said. “It’s the first time I brought my sons. I wanted them to be able to understand what it’s about. It lets children know their mom or dad died for a country that appreciated him. I tell my boys, ‘Memorial Day is not about parties. It’s about those who sacrificed their lives for all of us.’”
Sylville Seabrook said this was her second vigil for her husband, Staff Sgt. Jermane Seabrook. Memorial services help her, she said, because it connects her with others going through the same loss. Seabrook and her husband had been together for 17 years. She said it’s difficult to adjust to the loss of someone who’s been so much a part of your life for so long.
She explained that every service member who dies serving his or her country is someone’s loved one. The service member is not the only one making the ultimate sacrifice, she said.