Red, white and blue luminaries flickering softly at dusk and a luncheon to reaffirm commitment to remembering them and their fallen service members were just two ways Fort Stewart’s Survivor Outreach Services honored Gold Star mothers and family members this past weekend.
The Lights of Love luminary display Saturday evening and the luncheon Sunday were in recognition of Gold Star Mother’s Day, which is observed on the last Sunday in September.
Both events were intended to show Gold Star families that the sacrifices made by them and their fallen service members are not forgotten, said Selinda Torbert, SOS coordinator for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield. The candlelight display was an important and meaningful way to kick off the weekend honoring the families of the fallen.
“The importance of these celebrations is that our survivors never feel like they’ve been left behind, that they always feel that they are a greater part of the Army,” Torbert said.
Cottrell Field’s Marne patch and the area immediately in front of the reviewing stand were covered in the gentle glow of patriotic-colored tea lights in white paper bags arranged in the shape of two hearts. Gold Star families and others attending placed additional luminaries in the display to honor the memories of their fallen service members.
Having ceremonies to honor those memories is important, especially as the years pass, said Gold Star spouse Amanda Marr. The luminary display also displayed the costs of serving the nation.
“It’s a visual aid to show there have been sacrifices and losses,” Marr said.
Col. Townley Hedrick, the Fort Stewart garrison commander, echoed the visual impact of the light display.
“Symbolically it shows the families how much we care about their fallen heroes, the warriors who were part of this team,” he said. “It shows them that every year that we do this, we’ll never forget their service and their sacrifice.”
Honors continued Sunday with the Gold Star Mothers and Families luncheon at Club Stewart. Maj. Gen. Jim Rainey, the 3rd Infantry Division commander, sent his respect from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan to the Gold Star families with a recorded video. He promised that the 3rd ID will be there to help whenever the families ask.
“There’s absolute nothing I can say to you that’ll make a difference in terms of the sacrifice that you’ve suffered on behalf of our country and our Army,” Rainey said. “But I did want to take a minute and make sure that you know how much you’re appreciated and valued by us and by the United States of America.”
Brig. Gen. Jim Blackburn, the Task Force Marne commander, said the installation and the Army have no greater or nobler duty than taking care of the families of the fallen.
“Our goal remains to provide you the strong and supportive environment ready and responsive to your individual needs,” Blackburn said.
The selfless service and honor of the fallen is worthy of emulation, Blackburn said.
“You’re all here as a testament to the continuing influence those souls have had upon our lives, our families, our friends, and yes, here in our community,” he said.
Each Gold Star family member in attendance was presented a gift and handwritten note as part of the luncheon’s ceremony.
Angela Murphy, SOS financial counselor, said the events reinforce bonds between the Gold Star families and the Army.
“We want to let the family members know the Army hasn’t forgotten about them,” she said. “This is their connection. They are proud of their service member. They want that connection. Having these events helps them keep connected with soldiers and connected with the Army.”
Having a special day for Gold Star mothers to gather is important to Linda Lamie. No one can understand the experience of being a Gold Star mother except another Gold Star mother, she said.
“It’s wonderful that we get to come together as Gold Star mothers,” Lamie said. “It’s so hard on regular Mother’s Day. You don’t get that phone call. You don’t get to hug them. You don’t get to hear them say, ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’ This is a great time for the Gold Star mothers to come together and support each other.
Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield’s Survivor Outreach Services supports Gold Star families throughout the region, with 675 survivors in 40 Georgia counties, more than 70 in two South Carolina counties, and more than 1,180 in 57 Florida counties.