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Op-ed: Honoring Gold Star Families

To military families, the gold star has a very special and hallowed meaning. It is a symbol that someone in the family has been killed while serving his or her country; that someone in the family has made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy every day.

The tradition of the Gold Star started during World War I. Families would display flags with a blue star for every family member serving in the military. That blue star would be replaced with a gold one if a family service member was killed. This was a way of letting the community know that the family had suffered a loss. Later, the Gold Star lapel button was added to this tradition. The Gold Star lapel button and the Gold Star colors are traditionally presented to the family members by an officer during the funeral services.

Gold Star Mother’s Day was created by a joint congressional resolution in 1936. In 2011, by Presidential Proclamation, the resolution was expanded to include families. Although not technically a national holiday, the President of the United States proclaims the day every year as an official day of honor. It is up to us to keep the traditions associated with this day alive.

This is why we celebrate Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day the last Sunday in September. This day serves as a memorial for fallen service persons and is a commemoration of the family’s sacrifice.

How can we best show these families our gratitude in a way that honors the memory of the person they lost? Many bases and military instillations hold ceremonies. Many grassroots groups encourage people to post pictures and stories of their beloved fallen family members on social media. There are often 5K runs and other events held in communities to help raise awareness and funds for charitable causes associated with Gold Star Families.

Although Gold Star awareness in the community is very important, there is perhaps a greater opportunity for this day to let Gold Star family members know about the resources available to them. Connecting surviving family members with these resources can be essential to helping them heal from their loss.

There are numerous scholarships available to Gold Star family members. Some of these scholarships include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance Program, the Fry Scholarship, and those from the Folded Flag Foundation. Scholarship information can be found for The Folded Flag Foundation at www.foldedflagfoundation.org, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at www.va.gov/education/survivor-dependent-benefits and at Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation at www.fallenpatriots.org.

The West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance also has a list of resources available to Gold Star Families. One of the most valuable pieces of information includes information about the Gold Star Mothers, which is an organization made up of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in service to their country.

The Department’s website also includes information on the state’s War Orphan Education Program, where qualifying students of fallen soldiers are not charged tuition and fees at West Virginia’s public post-secondary education institutions. Additional services can be found at the Department’s website: www.veterans.wv.gov.

Resources can also be found through the Gold Star Family Registry at www.goldstarfamilyregistry.com. This registry provides a national database of the country’s fallen heroes. The registry ensures that those who gave their lives in defense of this country are remembered. This registry helps keep their memory alive and acts as an educational resource for those looking for information about the country’s fallen heroes.

Perhaps you have not lost someone to war. If that is the case, please consider visiting one of the many veteran facilities here in the state to volunteer. Volunteering for a veteran organization not only helps the organization, but it helps our veterans. Some of these veterans do not have family available and by volunteering you can help fill that void.

You can donate to the cause. Many different veterans’ organizations take donations in order to assist Gold Star Families. Donations can be used to help fund many of the aforementioned scholarships. However, do make sure that the organization is a reputable one. You can check on a charity’s legitimacy by looking it up on the W.Va. Secretary of State website, https://apps.wv.gov/SOS/BusinessEntitySearch/. All charities must be registered with the state and federal government.

We need to show our families that have sacrificed so much that we are invested in them and have not forgotten. What better way to honor the fallen than to help take care of the living?

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Cabinet Secretary Dennis Davis — a retired educator, former West Virginia Workforce Development director and U.S. Army veteran — serves as the Cabinet Secretary for the West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance. Davis was appointed by Governor Jim Justice to head the Department of Veterans Assistance, the agency that provides claims assistance and other benefits to W.Va. veterans.

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