Gold Star Mother talks about service, heartache, helping
By DAVID OWENS | The Hartford Courant | Published: November 12, 2018
(Tribune News Service) — At a solemn Veteran's Day ceremony Monday at the University of Saint Joseph, Leesa Philippon of West Hartford, Conn., talked about growing up in a military family, her own service in the Army, having her son join the Marines in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and the awful day she learned her son had died in combat in Iraq.
She also talked about the larger family she has gained since losing her son, consisting of Marines who served with him, and her work to lend a hand to the returning veterans who need help finding jobs, and getting the medical care and other services they need.
Lance Cpl. Lawrence Philippon was 22 when small arms fire cut him down on May 8, 2005. He'd recently been made a team leader and was leading his Marines into an insurgent-held house when he was hit, his mother told about 100 people gathered in the university's Mercy Hall.
The young Marine previously had a safe state-side assignment. His duties included unloading casualties at Dover Air Force Base. One day he recognized a fallen Marine as a mate from recruit training, his mother recalled. He heard from other friends already in combat, and he lobbied to join them.
"Our family was diminished with the loss of Larry," Philippon said. "Yet, at the same time it grew exponentially with the military family that continues to wrap their arms around us."
Getting to know the Marines who served with their son, who considered him a brother and risked their own lives to retrieve his body, has provided some degree of comfort, she said.
"We couldn't be with Larry when he was taken from the Earth," she said. "We believed God placed him amid brothers who love him and will carry his memory and legacy safely through the rest of their lives. But they will also carry the horror of that day."
Philippon said her son's comrades have cried in the arms of her and her husband Ray, and they have listened to the young men call, sometimes in distress, in the middle of the night.
"The demons they battle are real and the guilt of survival has, at times, overpowered them," she said. "They have lost brothers on the battlefield and at home."
Since losing her son, Philippon has devoted herself to helping veterans, first at the Sgt. John L. Levitow Veterans Health Center in Rocky Hill, and more recently through a program called Resilience Grows Here, a mental health initiative for veterans, through the Farmington Valley Health District.
"We feel strongly that it is our duty as a nation, as citizens on behalf of our fallen, to pick up the torch of guardianship and diligently care for those brothers and sisters in arms who make it home," she said.
Combat veterans can carry significant burdens, such as the guilt of survival, the shame of taking a life, depression, she said. Society has an obligation to help those veterans carry the burden of their combat experience, to be concerned about challenges returning soldiers face, and to better respond to their needs, she said.
She urged those at the ceremony to learn suicide awareness skills, to learn what resources are available for veterans and to be prepared to help a veteran who is struggling with encouragement, care and empathy.
"For our troops and our entire population, we need to address all forms of mental health and strive to remove the stigmas that stifle the quality of life for those who are faced with overcoming mental challenges," she said.
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