Gold Star families share a strong bond over war losses
Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.
PEORIA, Ill. — It's a club no one wants to join and a group that doesn't want any new members.
But Gold Star parents and families say the bond they share with others who have lost a child or spouse to war is tighter than anything.
"It is not a group you would willingly join, but we have all become very close because we know what the other feels," said Robyn Pannier, whose son, Phillip Pannier, 20, died in Iraq in January 2008 while serving with the 101st Airborne Division.
This Sunday is Gold Star Mothers and Family Day, a holiday created by Congress in 1936 to honor those families who lost a loved one during war. It always falls on the last Sunday in September. The name comes from flags that families used to hang in their windows during World War I.
A blue star represented a living serviceman, while a gold star was reserved for those who had fallen in battle.
Last year, President Barack Obama changed the holiday to include Gold Star families as well. And that, says Brenda Desilets, is a good thing as others such as fathers and siblings are affected as well.
"It never leaves your mind that when you have someone deployed that something could happen," said Desilets, whose son, Benjamin Desilets, a 21-year-old Elmwood Marine, was killed in Iraq in May 2007.
Gov. Pat Quinn will again host a private ceremony Sunday honoring the state's Gold Star mothers. Desilets went in 2008 after her son died. She was presented a Gold Star flag that first year. Other mothers who already had received a flag were given flowers which were then placed beneath a flag for each of the service branches.
"It really gives you a sense of how much loss, or at least it did for me. You can see how many Marines, Army or Navy had been killed," she said, trailing off into thought.
Pannier believes the word "honored," while appropriate, is a bit difficult.
"How can you say you are honored when you are there for the reason you are," she said. "It's an emotional thing but so is every day for us."
Kathy Bastean's son, Jordan Bastean, 19, was serving with the U.S. Marine Corps when he was killed in October 2011 in Afghanistan. For her, the company of other Gold Stars is welcoming.
"You don't have to explain anything or cover things up," she said. "You can just look at them and they know what you are going through and what you are feeling."
Bastean hasn't been to the governor's reception, saying she wasn't up for it last year, which was the first year after her son's death. However, she is going to an event at a Pekin VFW chapter, which she sees as a way to ease into the Gold Star Mother's club.
Being honest, she'd rather not go. She'd rather have her son with her, but she's going for the same reasons that other Gold Star mothers do — so people don't forget.
"I want to talk about him," Bastean said. "I want people to remember him."
Added Pannier, "We don't want anyone, living or dead, forgotten."
Gold Star ceremony
Each year, Gov. Pat Quinn invites Gold Star mothers from around the state to join him at a private ceremony in Chicago. As she has in the past, Patti Smith of Peoria has been asked to go to help with the ceremony.
While not a Gold Star mother, Smith had two sons serve in Iraq with the U.S. Marines and worked tirelessly to help others with Operation Santa and other groups.
At the ceremony, Smith will hand out a yellow rose to each mother to lay at the base of a flag representing the service branches.
"You can see their broken heart reflected in their eyes. Some stop for a hug, which I gladly give them. There are no words to console yet compassion can be demonstrated by listening to the stories they tell of their loved ones," she said.