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Gone, but never forgotten: fallen heroes honored in St. Louis

By Cpl. Jennifer Webster | 9th Marine Corps District | October 1, 2016

ST. LOUIS – The venerated title that no one dreams of ever receiving: Gold Star family.

“Most Americans don’t fully see, don’t fully understand the sacrifice made by the one percent who serve in this all-volunteer armed forces – a sacrifice that preserves the freedoms we too often take for granted. Few know what it’s like to take a bullet for a buddy, or to live with the fact that he or she took one for you. But our Gold Star families, our veterans – they know this intimately,” President Barack Obama said at the Arlington National Cemetery on May 25, 2015.

The term “Gold Star” traces back to World War I. During that conflict, Americans would fly a flag bearing a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the armed forces. The star would be changed to gold if the family lost a loved one in the war.

The Semper Fi Society of St. Louis hosted the 7th Annual Gold Star Family Luncheon Oct. 1, 2016, at the Boeing Company in St. Louis, Missouri.

“Knowing the reality that the price of freedom is high, a leader must ensure that the sacrifice of those lost and those wounded is not forgotten,” said Col. Jason Morris, the guest of honor and the 9th Marine Corps District commanding officer, as he addressed a room full of Gold Star families. Morris was chosen as the guest of honor for his personal connection to those he lost overseas.

In September 2009, Morris assumed command of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, known as “Darkhorse Battalion,” and a year later led a deployment to Sangin District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“That deployment I will take to my grave with pride knowing what my Marines did, how they accomplished the mission, went to the gates of hell and back with me, and kept their honor clean,” Morris stated proudly.
Throughout that deployment Morris said he became acutely aware of the steep cost paid in life and limb.

In roughly 100 days, 25 Marines from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, and an additional four Marines from two companies in 2nd Marine Division, lost their lives. There were more than 35 Marines who lost limbs and became double, triple and quadruple amputees. Nearly 150 more were wounded.

“When you know your Marines, their faces, their wives, and you’ve seen them sweat, curse, laugh, every casualty report takes on a special meaning and every letter home is agonizingly crafted to try and explain the circumstances of their loved one’s passing,” Morris told the room full of family, friends and Marines. “The loss of any Marine is tragic, but we Marines go where our country needs us and execute our orders.”

As names of fallen heroes were called, Marines from Recruiting Station St. Louis delivered flags to the Gold Star families in attendance. A few of Morris’ Marines who lost their lives in Afghanistan were represented by their mothers, fathers and children.

“As I was delivering flags today it brought tears to my eyes,” Staff Sgt. Manuel Silva said. “You can see the pain in their parent’s eyes and it makes you think, it could be anybody.”

One Gold Star mother was comforted by the sight of Marines in dress blues.

“In a room full of Marines I feel like my son is with me, like maybe he just went to get a drink of water and I’ll see him come around the corner any second,” Terrie Hobson said, tears running down her face. “I raised a warrior and I’m proud of the man who he had become. I miss him every day.”

Terrie lost her only child, Lance Cpl. Jack Kenna, May 17, 2008, in Iraq.

“I hear the pride through their tears, as they flip through old photos and run their fingers over shiny medals,” Obama said in closing at the Arlington National Cemetery. “I see that their hearts are still broken, and yet still full of love. They do not ask for awards or honors. They do not ask for special treatment. They are unfailingly humble. In the face of unspeakable loss, they represent the best of who we are.”
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