“Hey! Have you heard of the Gold Star Moms?” my colleague eagerly asked, bounding into my office.
I slowly finished chewing the bite in my mouth as I thought of my reply. “Ummmm… yeah…” was the best response I could manage, trying to gauge the reason for his enthusiasm. “Why?”
“Well, because I just learned about a group of Gold Star Moms in the area, and thought maybe you would like to go meet with them because you are military, and it’s not something too common around here!”
“You do know what a Gold Star Mom or Wife is, right?” I asked tentatively.
“It’s a Mom whose Servicemember son or daughter was killed in action – or, a Wife whose husband was killed in action,” I quietly explained.
My colleague’s face fell as he started to stammer an apology, saying something about how he didn’t know.
“No, it’s okay.” I reassured him. “The thing is, every active duty family knows what it means to be a Gold Star Family. If you want, I can reach out to them to let them know about the clinical services we provide, make sure they are getting the services they’re entitled to. But, it’s not a group ‘just any military’ family can join.”
That night, when I expressed my surprise to my husband that my fellow clinician had no clue what a Gold Star Family was, my husband was not nearly so shocked. He reminded me we were far removed from a major military installation, in what the Army considered a “remote duty location.” And, it’s not something most people think of daily – especially without ties to the military.
Which is why this post was written for this weekend… for Memorial Day.
Gold Star Families are forced into that elite group who have learned, in the most difficult and painful way, that freedom does not come without a heavy price. They know what it means to have lost their loved one in time of war – not to greet a smiling face coming off a plane, but instead, to meet a coffin, draped in an American flag.
This past Veteran’s Day, I wrote about how, as of January 2015, only 0.4 percent of the American population were active duty Servicemembers. The number of veterans – those who have served – comprises little more of the population.
Memorial Day should not be a happy, celebratory day. While it is a federal holiday, typically reserved for bar-b-ques, picnics, and family vacation, for a select segment of the population, it is a painful day of remembrance.
Memorial Day should be a necessary reminder for us all, that freedom truly isn’t free.
Freedom comes at a perilous cost. It comes at the price of lives tragically ended all too soon. It comes at the price of children being raised without their parent. It comes at the price of families torn apart.
Of course, even for those who have come home from war… sometimes it is only with visible wounds. Still other survivors come home with invisible wounds – frightening flashbacks, shifted personalities, or hypersensitivity to noises, odors, and sights.
While no man (or woman) leaves war unscathed, most will adjust to their experiences.
But, others, many of whom experience the aforementioned symptoms, begin a downward spiral, in which they either can’t reach out, or can’t accept, the help to adjust and adapt to their experiences.
Without that help they desperately need, through no fault of their own, they begin to despair and become hopeless. They begin doubting whether their sacrifice away from their families, their lives, and their current struggles meant anything to the country for whom they suffer.
And, for approximately twenty-two veterans each day experiencing hopelessness and despair, they choose to end their lives.
Those twenty-two individuals each day, in addition to those killed in service of our country…
Those are who we remember on Memorial Day.
We remember their service…
Twenty-two lives each day; twenty-two people, in addition to the countless others who died in battle.
It’s uncomfortable to think about.
The country wants to pay lip service and apologize to the families. Yet, for most of those individuals, receiving the help they desperately needed, often tied up in bureaucratic red tape, was dependent on political games and whims. The help they needed was inaccessible because of politics – and, a country who claims with its lips to care, but whose votes and actions show otherwise.
One of my favorite military lifestyle bloggers, Rebekah Sanderlin recently shared how she is bitter, and how she will not encourage her children to serve… because the country does not deserve any more of her family’s sacrifice. It’s a sentiment I hear all too often from other military families. I have heard it said (by more than one person) “America is not at War. American Servicemembers are at War. America is at the Mall.”
And, I wonder if it is because our country is just too uncomfortable to think of the price freedom demands?
John Stuart Mill once penned,
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
Twenty-two suicides a day, not including the untold numbers of Americans who lost their lives in combat.
Those are our heroes – those who have exerted themselves and paid a price far beyond our comprehension.
The Families have paid the price of freedom alongside their Servicemember.
They. are. who. we. remember. this. weekend.
So, enjoy your potluck dinners, your shopping sales, and your bar-b-ques this weekend. But also take time to ask yourself:
How am I supporting our veterans, who may be at risk of being one of the twenty-two?
What can I do to better support a veteran who may be at risk of becoming one of the twenty-two?
18 thoughts on “True Meaning of the Day”
I love our 7 veterans…and by the grace of God we are not a Gold Star family. The cost of freedom includes the families left behind, the kiddos for whom the year+ wait is an eternity, and the families who don’t make it b/c being a military spouse is too hard. For all those broken pieces, Memorial Day reminds us that the cost is higher than most people will ever understand.
Thank you. Yes. It does remind us… my hope is that it also reminds other readers!
THANK YOU FOR SAYING WHAT NEEDS TO BE SAID!
You’re most welcome. Thank you for the compliment. 🤗
Great post, Anni. It’s a sobering day in my books. It almost angers me that we have Memorial Day sales! and Memorial Day specials! This is a day to hang your flag, really and truly reflect on what this day means, and say a prayer for those that are gone and for those that have to carry on without them.
I agree so much! I, too, struggle to see stores touting their special sales… my SIL sent me this link a while ago, which was intriguing about how the remembrance part of Memorial Day morphed – http://time.com/4770697/memorial-day/
That said, it doesn’t give us, as a collective society, the right to forget… or, to overlook our current needs of veterans.
Have an Honorable Memorial Day (an appropriate greeting which was introduced to me this year).
Great and timely post Anni. That quote by John Stuart Mill is so true.
I have three nephews in the military at this time. They are proud to serve and they are fortunate they have a great support system in their families.
I also have a cousin in the military. His own son Julien came back to the US in a flag draped coffin. It is still painful for his entire family.
Thank you again for the reminder of what Memorial Day truly is.
Thank you so much! Our family is like your nephews’ families – proud to serve and fortunate to have a support system.
My heart and prayers go out to Julien and his family… I will hold them all in prayers – especially tomorrow. I’ve heard the pain never goes away – the grief just changes as years go by. I hope Julien’s family knows he has not been forgotten, since too often, families worry their Servicemember will be forgotten. Julien will not be forgotten in our household. Thank you for sharing.
Have an Honorable Memorial Day tomorrow. 🤗
I did a post last year where I mentioned Julian. https://thechickengrandma.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/remembering-on-the-4th-of-july/
I look forward to reading your post this afternoon. Thank you for sharing!
With my background, I’m glad to hear that the clinician was positively impressed by the “Gold Star Moms.” I remember when loathing, or worse, would not have been a rare response.
That said, I remain impressed at the lack of background information possessed by many Americans.
I agree, that Memorial Day should not be viewed exclusively as a three day weekend reserved for pleasure. On the other hand, I am glad that so many Americans *can* enjoy themselves today. I can’t blame most for not knowing why we can do that.
About PTSD, I could hope that my country acted more effectively to help those whose scars aren’t visible.
I do not know what ‘shell shock’ feels like, thanks to a deformity which made me unfit for military service. I do, however, know what decades of undiagnosed PTSD feels like, thanks to an unpleasant set of experiences.
As you said, hopelessness – the emotion – happens. I can hardly blame someone for dealing with an invisible disability I share. I can, however, occasionally remind those blessed with unaffected minds that PTSD is not a character flaw. How each of us deals with it is – another topic.
Thank you for sharing.
It is my goal to spread awareness and education through my blog, simply because I, too, am surprised at the lack of background most Americans possess in regard to the military lifestyle and veterans’ issues.
And, you are correct – PTSD effects more than just combat veterans; and, each person struggling with it will manifest symptoms in their own way. Which may, or may not, be building to future articles from yours truly… 🤔
As always, thank you for your insight!
In the spirit of setting people straight here, you’d probably like to know that ‘Veterans Day’ does not have an apostrophe as you’ve typed it. Can I bring up a thought, as a Veteran: The more we chastise civilians for these things, the more we ostracize ourselves as a 1%. That’s not healthy for those trying to recover, we don’t need people to feel like they need to tread on eggshells around us. Your post is well thought out, and very well intentioned, but we need bridges not walls.
Vanessa – Thank you for the catch on the apostrophe. It’s invariably frustrating when something like that slips through.
My intent, as it so-often is, was to educate and raise awareness of veteran suicide rates. While I had (and have) no intention to criticize, I felt that the nature of the subject was such that more than a gentle reminder was due.
Also, I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment about bridges rather than walls. I spent a good chunk of my professional career helping Veterans re-integrate after completing active service. Through that, I saw first hand, the effort that so many Veterans put into reaching out and building those bridges.
As a civilian myself, I also felt (and still feel) called to speak frankly to my fellow civilians out there to get them re-focused on why we mark this particular day, something that is sadly absent from the consciousness of all too many of my fellow civilian acquaintances.
I think that as civilians, we need to do a better job of reaching out ourselves and seeking to understand these special people in our midst who took the oath and paid a price for our freedom. But that effort requires that we at least see those in our midst who need help and a willingness to do more than simply to extend a hand and offer a perfunctory “Thank you for your service.”
While I don’t share the bitterness of some in the extended community of Servicemembers and Families, I do see the slowly rising tide that buoys the sentiments of others I mentioned in my post. That anger is there and from what I have observed through my clinical lens, it’s clearly growing.
So, to the ends of Bridge-Building, I want you to know that I will take your comment to heart and will use it to shape my future posts on this subject. If you end up following me, do not be surprised to see the word “Bridge” in the title of at least one of my next few posts.
Thank you for taking some time to share your thoughts!