There have been many groups that have been recognized at the Missouri National Veterans Memorial in Perryville, including former prisoners of war just two weeks ago. Another group was honored on Sunday.
A Gold Star Celebration was held at the memorial wall honoring those who died in service and their families. For event organizer Bob Herschbach, it was an important ceremony.
“It was one of the first times that Gold Star members are actually recognized,” Herschbach said. “It gave closure to a lot of the families and we even had one lady in tears because her family member was finally recognized for his service.”
Herschbach noted that 38 families were at the ceremony, along with about 100 different family members. In total, Herschbach said that approximately 300 people attended.
The keynote speaker for the event was retired Gen. James T. Conway, who served as the 34th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Conway noted that ceremonies such as these are as tough on a fallen soldiers’ comrades as they are for the families of the fallen.
“About 500 years before Christ, the Greek philosopher Herodotus said that, in peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons,” Conway said. “It’s been that way for the last 2,500 years, so can we say that somehow makes it easier all these years later? No, absolutely not.
“When families get that devastating news, there is nothing anyone is going to say to make it any easier. But much like when parents lose one of their family, the military and their fellow soldiers lose a brother.”
Upon signing up at the ceremony, families were presented with a yellow rose and a Gold Star coin, featuring the Gold Star emblem and the date.
The reverse side honors all five branches of service and bears the inscription, “All gave some; some gave all.”
More than 35 names of fallen servicemen and women whose families were in attendance were read aloud during the ceremony, along with their military affiliation, the war in which they served, and age of death.
The youngest died at 18 years old, and the average age of the fallen was 19.
The Gold Star family tradition has a long history. Beginning in World War I, families of US soldiers and sailors often flew flags that had a blue star for each member of the family that was serving in the military.
If one of them died in battle, the blue star was changed to a gold star.
In August of 1947, the United States Congress authorized the military to present a gold star lapel pin to the family members of those killed in action.
Another pin—this time a gold star with a gold background and four oak sprigs around the star—was authorized by Congress in 1973. It was awarded to the next of kin of service members who die during military service.
Gen. James T. Conway was the keynote speaker and prior to his retirement in 2010, Conway served as commandant on the Marine Corps, he served as the senior uniformed Marine responsible for the organization, training, and equipping of over 250,000 active duty, reserve, and civilian Marines throughout the United States and overseas, as well as the management of the $30-$40 billion annual Marine Corps budget.
As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Conway functioned as a military advisor to the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, and the president.
Conway also served as Commanding General of 1st Marine Division, and he was the commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force during two tours in Iraq. He initially led the invasion of Iraq in 2003 with 90,000 troops under his command, including Marines, soldiers, sailors, and British forces. Conway continued to tell stories of his times in the military and summed up the day this way.
“Every soldier whether they make it home or not should be remembered, he said. “That’s why days like this are so important.”