Gold Star Family Candlelight Vigil honors the fallen: ‘Oh, how these warriors will be forever missed’
COLUMBIS, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — One by one the families stepped forward — these moms and dads and widows and daughters and sons — to gently place a white carnation into a wicker basket to memorialize and remember the ones they loved who gave all they had for the love of country.
As they reached the edge of the reflecting pool in the Memorial Grove at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, some crossed themselves. A few knelt. A couple of men saluted. Many wiped away tears.
The solemn Gold Star Family Vigil at the museum on W. Broad Street Friday night was a reminder of what Memorial Day is really all about: Honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
These warriors will be forever missed
“Oh, how these warriors will be forever missed. We promise we will never forget you or your families,” U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain Capt. David Kuntz said while giving the invocation to more than 50 people gathered for the hour-long ceremony. And then he asked for prayers for the families who have lost so much. “Hold them in your arms until their tears stop and they can breathe again.”
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic squelched in-person Memorial Day services, and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, the president and CEO of the museum, told the families that it was good to gather together again.
Ferriter, a career Army infantry officer and Special Forces combat veteran, generally opens his public speeches by saying it’s a good day to be a soldier. But as he looked out at those who huddled on a night where the air temperature felt near freezing and the 20 mph winds were strong enough to blow down the American Flag, he choked up.
“Not every day is a great day,” Ferriter said. “And that’s why we do Gold Star family candlelight vigils.”
Those in attendance already knew, of course, about sacrifice. But Ferriter reminded everyone why their own stories are so important.
“Ceremonies like this allow us to continue sharing the stories of those who exhibited the most selfless act of serving, protecting our freedoms and giving their lives for our country,” he said. “Make sure your children know about your grandfather who served in World War II or your aunt, brother or cousin who fought in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq or Afghanistan.”
LaRose highlights the price for freedom
And when he addressed the group, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, also an Army Special Forces combat veteran, carried on that theme of making sure younger generations understand the stories of those who came before them and the price they paid for everyone’s freedom.
“This weekend a grateful nation pauses to remember those who died in service to our country,” LaRose said. “It’s about honoring their sacrifice. But it’s also about passing it on. There aren’t many things in this world truly worthy dying for. I would submit this country is.”
Silence fell over the grove
But it was when Jim Groves walked to the podium and took the mic that silence really fell over the grove.
Groves and his wife, Leslie, lost their son 37-year-old Army Chief Warrant Officer James Groves III when his helicopter went down in Afghanistan on March 16, 2013.
“Memorial Day is not about the Memorial Day sales. It’s not about the cookouts or the pools opening. It is not a happy day,” Groves said. “Gold Star parents are not different. But we do look at Memorial Day much different than most. To us, every day is Memorial Day.”
Then, as retired Army Col. William Butler, the museum’s chief of staff, read the names of 23 fallen soldiers, airmen and Marines, their loved ones left carnations by that basket at the reflecting pool’s edge in their memory. A lone bugler played taps and the whipping winds carried the notes far and wide.
And finally, Chaplain Kuntz gave an emotional benediction.
“Whisper in the ears of our loves ones in heaven,” he prayed, “and give them the wishes of everyone here and tell them how much they loved them.”
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