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It’s Gold Star Families Remembrance Week This Week

By: Senator James Lankford

Each year before Christmas, a team of volunteers from Wreaths Across America brings thousands of wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., to give families and volunteers a chance to place a wreath at a fallen service member’s grave.

The solemn experience is one that the volunteers will never forget.

In addition to honoring our fallen service members, we also honor their families’ sacrifices. They experience the empty chair (sometimes even more tragically chairs) at the holiday dinner table; they see a hero in a family photo who wore the cloth of our nation to defend our freedom and our values until his or her last breath. Their family member’s absence leaves a void at school plays, on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and certainly during the holiday season.

To help honor them, Gold Star entities originated with service flag distribution to immediate family members of soldiers fighting in World War I. The original service flag contained a blue star unless the soldier’s service ended in his or her last full measure of devotion, in which case the blue star became gold. Today, in addition to the Gold Star Wives and other related groups, the Tragedy Assistance Program also tracks 600 survivors in Oklahoma and more than 80,000 families nationwide to help them connect and support each other and let a reverent nation support them in return.

Oklahoma’s sons and daughters have bravely fought (and continue to fight) as integral parts of our nation’s military missions around the world. Each Memorial Day, our nation honors those fallen service members. Now, we have a special time set aside to honor their families.

In early September, the Senate unanimously passed S.Res. 522 to designate the week of Sept. 23-Sept. 29, 2018, as Gold Star Families Remembrance Week. This week is a time to recognize and honor the families who sacrificed to support their warriors, and in their continued grief, we get another opportunity to lift them up.

In addition to this important week of recognition, Congress worked to pass the Forever GI Bill (H.R. 3218), which expanded education benefits for surviving dependents.

We also worked to provide eligible surviving dependents access to military installations through this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5515), which also included a number of important provisions to help our active duty personnel still serving today, including a pay raise. I am glad the Senate took the time to address these and other survivor benefits.

I have had the honor to shake the hands of and pray for Gold Star family members throughout my time in Congress. This resilient group of men and women, children and parents, is strong but will always grieve their lost loved ones in one way or another.

If you see a Gold Star lapel pin this week or any week, please take a moment to recognize their sacrifice as a family member of a fallen American hero and thank them for their sacrifice.

Those service members gave their lives for our country and their families gave a piece of themselves.