I’ve recently updated the bios on my Facebook and Instagram profiles to include, “life + love beyond the gold star”.
I’ve been around this topic before. Concerned it wouldn’t be something people would want to read about or care to know about. (I’ve been flat out told this before.) I switched my focus to soul care and helping other people take care of themselves. I wanted them to spend some intentional time tending to matters deep within them; like I believe I’ve had to do. It is very important work and I can’t imagine abandoning it completely, but after seeing passionate non-Gold Star Family members care for those who are in this unfortunate “club” I was compelled to come back around to it.
Before I keep going on about my why let me explain what the Gold Star Service Banner (or Service Flag) is and why we have one hanging in our home.
From the FlagPro website:
In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson approved a new device that could replace the wearing of traditional mourning for loved ones who have died in service to our Nation, and also foster home-front pride for those risking their lives for our freedom. Then known as the Service Flag, we now more descriptively refer to it as the Service Banner. The familiar colors and proportions of the Banner derive from a version copyrighted by Captain R. L. Queisser in 1917. This copyright has since passed to the United States Department of Defense, which regulates the authorization to manufacture Service Banners.
“The Service Flag displayed from homes. places of business, churches, schools, etc., to indicate the number of members of the family or organizations who are serving in the Armed Forces or who have died from such service. Service flags have a deep blue star for each living member in the service, and a gold star for each member who has died.” Usually hung in an exterior window, the banners became commonplace in homes where anxious yet proud families waited for word from their sons, husbands, brothers, and friends striving to free those an ocean away.
As the war continued and men were killed in combat, fatally wounded, or died of disease, the gold star was substituted and superimposed upon the blue star so as to cover it completely. The gold star was meant to convey the honor and glory deserving of the individual who had made the supreme sacrifice for his country.
The Service Banner came into use again decades later, when the men and women of the United States took up arms to defeat fascism and tyranny, this time across both oceans in World War II. The same mass production that produced tanks, bombers and uniforms were used to produce the Service Banner. Modern practicality meant that the banners were now being produced in both blue and gold star versions, with multiple stars to reflect the terrible sacrifice made by the citizens of our great nation.
The Service Banner was put to rest after that great effort, with the hope that its like would never be called on again. America’s reluctance to see injustice done, however, would revive the Banner to stand once more for the generations who would serve in Korea, in Viet Nam, Desert Storm, and finally in our ongoing war against terrorism.
I first learned about this service banner when I was teaching fifth grade; a fairly new teacher preparing to teach a history unit on World War II (my students’ overwhelming vote) a topic I knew very little about.
I’d already married into the Marine Corps six years earlier and we had welcomed our first son a couple of years after that. My then husband, Chad Simon, had already been a Marine for a decade by then and I was quickly learning about being “married to the military”.
I checked out EVERY age-appropriate resource to bring into the classroom to prepare for an interactive unit on the topic of World War II. We covered a lot of facts and details about the time period, the country’s leadership, fashion, music/entertainment and things like the kind of foods that were most common. We turned our classroom into as much of a representation of that time period as we could.
I first learned about the service banners at the same time as the students in my classroom.
We made them out of construction paper and had discussions about what it may have felt like to have to change your star from blue to gold. We talked about how common the banners were since there was a draft and young men were required to enlist. It was so difficult for all of us to fully comprehend and those ten and eleven-year-olds had a lot to say about how unfair and challenging they believed it might be.
You should know that I was the kind of classroom teacher who would “go there” with her students; much like I tend to do with my own son, husband, and friends. It’s not easy and I do not have all of the answers but I’m willing to make room to have the difficult conversations because it develops empathy and compassion for others. It improves the likelihood that we might see ourselves more clearly and address our own weaknesses and blindspots.
And well, I believe that God works in all of the details of our lives; that in His way – when we allow Him to – He uses seemingly small, everyday things to move us toward preparation and readiness for bigger things. Which is what He did in this case.
Because only one year later, the attacks on the Twin Towers would shake the nation and move my husband from his training as a reservist into preparing to become an active duty, deployed service member. The time between the attacks on September 11th of 2001 and his deployment on June 5th of 2004 and his death on August 4th, 2005 are such a blur to me – even now, all these years later.
But now I’m ready and willing to go back into it to help others; the few others who have experienced something similar.
We never owned a blue star banner, only the gold one.
Chad (SSgt. Chad Simon) was an infantryman navigating new territory in Iraq when the humvee he was driving was destroyed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Because he was not killed instantly, our permanent admittance into the Gold Star community didn’t come until 9 months later.
I’ll share more about his death, our grief, and the support we’ve received as a part of this community in future posts. A lot of what I’m involved in now and how I try to live can be connected to what happened when this gold star stopped being a history lesson and became personal one.
As I’m sharing this sometimes gut-wrenching story, I hope you will see how God truly never abandoned me through it all.