June 1, 2019
Subject: This Memorial Week: Take Time to Honor Our Gold Star Families
Isaiah 6:8 “I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’
Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.”
A Gold Star Family is the immediate family of a fallen soldier who died while serving in a time of conflict. You can recognize them in two ways. First, if they display a Gold Star Service Flag. The number of gold stars on the flag will match the number of family members who died. The second is their Gold Star lapel pin. These pins contain a gold star on a purple circular background.
The number of Gold Star families in our country is significant. But even more inspirational are the number of these brave heroes who voluntarily gave their lives to defend freedom. In our verse this week, the prophet Isaiah voluntarily answered God’s call for who He could send on His behalf, to share His warning to Israel to repent of their wickedness and return to Him. The end result was Isaiah’s death as a martyr.
The context of this verse might be different, but the analogy with Gold Star heroes is the same. Although the draft ended with the Vietnam War, men and women ages of 18-25 register today through the Selective Service system. But in past wars, the number of civilians who simply answered the call to service will amaze you. Many went voluntarily to their deaths to defend the God-given blessing of freedom.
There are 57,608 registered Gold Star families from the Vietnam War. Of the more than 58,000 soldiers who died in Vietnam, over 60% were younger than 21. Our Vietnam soldiers were the best educated forces our nation had ever sent into combat, with nearly 80% having a high school education or better. Our Vietnam soldiers didn’t go because they were drafted. 66% of the men who served in Vietnam were volunteers, and 70% of those who died there were volunteers. Not only do 90% of Vietnam Veterans say they are glad they served, 74% say they would serve again, knowing the outcome.
There are 33,594 registered Gold Star Korean War families. The Korean War has been described as “the forgotten war.” Unlike World War II and Vietnam, it didn’t get much media attention in the US. But In South Korea, war memorials honoring US soldiers can be found in nearly every hamlet. The US provided almost 90% of the military. Of these, nearly 50% were volunteers. Almost 40,000 American soldiers died, with over 100,000 wounded. Why did they die? For the benefit of others – for those who couldn’t defend themselves.
There are 373, 237 registered Gold Star World War II families. On June 6, 1944, over 29,000 American soldiers died on D-Day. That’s more than six times the number of American soldiers killed in the entire Iraq war. The ages of our soldiers on D-Day ranged from 18 to 24. All five Normandy beaches were taken that day by 18-24 year olds who put their futures on hold, nearly 40% enlisting voluntarily, to fight Nazism.
Joanne M. Steen, a nationally certified counselor, crisis responder, and speaker on military loss, is a Gold Star member herself, the widow of a naval pilot killed in the line of duty. In her book ‘WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU: A Survival Guide for Gold Star Parents and Those Who Support Them’, she explains to us the three things Gold Star families want us to remember about the significance of Memorial Day.
“1. Understand why there needs to be a Memorial Day. There is a potent message in the expression ‘Freedom is not free,’ and in our post 9/11 world, personal freedoms can’t be taken for granted. All currently serving military personnel contribute in some way to protecting our freedoms; some pay dearly.
- Many Americans think military personnel only die in wars. While combat deaths embody the ultimate sacrifice, service members die on other military operations, during training exercises, due to equipment failure and accidents, or by suicide. The numbers are staggering. Since 9/11 more than 16,000 service members have died in non-combat circumstances, more than double the 7,000 who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Their deaths must also be remembered and honored.
- Gold Star families fear their loved ones will be forgotten. Karen Funcheon, Gold Star mother of Army Sgt. Alex Funcheon, has had Gold Star Mother license plates on her vehicle for 11 years. In all that time, only three people have asked her about them. ‘If you see a Gold Star license plate, take a moment and ask,’ said Karen. ‘The family will appreciate your actions more than you’ll know.’
This freedom we enjoy each day comes at a very expensive price – the precious lives of our courageous military. We can remember them by thanking our Gold Star families whenever we see them.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.