Grieving mothers came from as close as Statesboro and as far away as Tampa, Fla., on Sunday afternoon to remember their sons and daughters, who died while on active duty, during Fort Stewart’s annual Gold Star Mothers ceremony at the Marne Chapel.
Forty-one mothers, accompanied by relatives and friends, attended a luncheon sponsored by Survivor Outreach Services, a program designed to reach out to Army families who have lost a loved one to a combat-related death or a nonmilitary-related death, such as a vehicle accident or suicide.
Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Milton spoke to the group of more than 100 people about the history of the Gold Star Mothers program. He also acknowledged the intense sense of loss and grief the parents often suffer through.
“You have endured the unnatural death of your child before you. This is no easy weight to live with. Every day you carry the memory of your child, their service, their sacrifice,” he said.
Milton assured the mothers, who wiped tears from their eyes, that their children would not be forgotten by the Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield community.
“Please know that here at Fort Stewart and HAAF, we honor your loss. We know the cost of freedom here. We know the cost of faith, blood and tears. I can assure you, by no means will the legacy of your child be forgotten,” he said.
After Milton’s remarks, 3rd Infantry Division soldiers escorted the mothers, whose names were called one by one, to the front of the crowd, where they received coins inscribed with the phrase, “No sacrifice forgotten.”
The group boarded a bus to Cottrell Field, which is bordered by Warriors Walk — rows of eastern redbud trees planted in honor of soldiers who lost their lives while serving their country. A box full of butterflies sat on a table at the center of the field.
As the families encircled the table, Fort Stewart Chaplain Lt. Col. Stanley Whitten told them the butterflies symbolized resurrection.
“Every time I see a butterfly, I’m reminded of what they stand for. In many cultures, they stand for resurrection, new life, new hope. I think today they stand as a reminder that our soldiers — your soldiers, your sons and daughters — are with us today,” he said.
As Whitten concluded his speech, he unwrapped the box, freeing the butterflies. The crowd watched as the fluttering cloud of colorful creatures rose to the sky.
Gwendolyn Lane, who came from Bulloch County to honor her son, Shubert Lane, who was killed in a vehicle accident in 1995, said, “This was very rewarding and it showed us the military will always be a part of us.”