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PHOTO CAPTION:  At the beginning of the ceremony in 2011, the wreath was incomplete. After several Gold Star Families, such as Rebecca Ponder, placed yellow roses on the wreath in remembrance of lost loved ones in combat, it quickly filled to capacity. This year's wreath laying ceremony will be held at Division Headquarters, Wednesday at 4 p.m.  Photo Credit: Courier archive

October 18, 2013
By Heather Clark, Courier staff

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- During the days of World War I, men and women serving in the U.S. military became symbolized by blue stars. A blue star flag in the window of a home let passers-by know the Family inside had a loved one serving overseas. In the unfortunate event of that loved one dying in service, the loss was symbolized by a gold star, superimposed on the blue one.

Today, the surviving Families of fallen Soldiers are known as Gold Star Families. Each year, Fort Campbell, like many other military installations, sets aside a time to honor these Families and thank them for the sacrifices they have made. Last year, Maj. Gen. James C. McConville, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell, determined Gold Star Family Appreciation Day was something that could be built upon to show greater support, and the day was revised to a full week.

This year, Fort Campbell will continue the tradition of Gold Star Family Appreciation Week, Monday through Oct. 26, with a series of special events to include an installation tour, group dining venture and wreath laying ceremony.

"I think it's very important for us to continue to reach out to these Families," said Suzy Yates, manager of Fort Campbell's Survivor Outreach Services program. "They've made the ultimate sacrifice, and I believe it's our duty to make sure these Families are always remembered and their sacrifices not forgotten. It is our mission to make sure that these Families always feel like Fort Campbell is home."

The week is set to begin with Monday's installation tour, beginning at Division Headquarters at 9 a.m. According to Yates, the tour is one of the most popular appreciation events -- particularly for the Families that don't get to make it back to the installation too often.

"We are going to the Air Assault School, and the 160th [Special Operations Aviation Regiment] is going to do a water demonstration for our Families," she said. "That's something that not everybody gets to see, so we're pretty excited about that."

Other stops on the tour will include a visit to the Don F. Pratt Museum and lunch at the 5th Special Forces Group dining facility.

Tuesday evening, Gold Star Families have been invited to a group dining out at The Looking Glass restaurant in Clarksville, beginning at 5:30 p.m. This event is being held in place of last year's unit social.

"We tried to change some events so they're not exactly the same as last year," said Yates. "The dining out event is just an opportunity for our Families to get together. Some are coming here from as far away as California, so we want to make sure our Families have an opportunity to spend some time together without outside influences."

Families will reconvene at Division Headquarters Wednesday at 4 p.m. for a wreath laying ceremony in the atrium, where they will have the opportunity to place single flowers in a Gold Star wreath in honor their fallen heroes.

"The wreath laying ceremony tends to be very emotional," Yates said. "Any ceremony of that nature brings back memories of the memorial because it's set up very similar. We take that into consideration and make sure we do things in a manner that is respectful."

A special portion of the wreath laying ceremony, exclusive to Gold Star Family members, will be devoted to the celebration of the surviving children.

Last year, Gold Star Families were invited to the Fort Campbell SOS center to hang portraits of their fallen Soldiers in what became the Hall of Remembrance. This year, the Families are invited back to SOS at 10 a.m. for Reflections on the Hall of Remembrance to gather and share stories of loved ones. In addition, they have been asked to bring wallet-sized photos of their Soldiers for the creation of a special project.

"This event is actually going to be led by our Military Family Life Consultants," said Yates. "We're really encouraging Families to come to that event; it's something completely different that we haven't done before."

Closing out the week on a strong note, the community is invited to the Division Parade Field, Oct. 26, where the Run for the Fallen will take place from 9 a.m. until noon.

"The Run for the Fallen culminates the appreciation week, and honors and pays tribute to our fallen Soldiers," said Van Stokes, chief of the installation's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation division. "It allows every participant to pay their respects in their own personal way. It's been going on for several years and is expected to be a part of the fabric of our community."

Opening remarks from a chaplain and Brig. Gen. Mark R. Stammer, acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division, will jumpstart the event. Afterward, participants are free to walk or run the parade field's 3.6 mile route.

"It's a commemorative event; it's not a race," explained Stokes. "There are no times, no medals. Your participation pays honor and tribute to the fallen Soldiers and their Families."

Highlighting the Run for the Fallen will be the Field of Flags -- one each placed for each of Fort Campbell's fallen Soldiers. Families are invited to visit the field at their leisure.

"I think the Field of Flags provides a very powerful visual reminder of the individual lives and the lives collectively," said Stokes. "You see these flags and when they're all together, they represent a lot of Families."

Yates said events like these are not only important for honoring the fallen, they also give survivors the opportunity to come together and forge empathetic bonds.

"The best support for a Gold Star Family member is, in my eyes, fellow Gold Star Families," she said. "It's important for them to realize by coming to these events that they're not alone. There are hundreds of Families, unfortunately, going through the same thing they're going through."

With all of the planning that has gone into a week of honoring Gold Star Families, Yates says she is very excited about the upcoming events.

"I think this is going to be a good week for our Families to come together," she said. "We have Families coming in from all over the U.S., some we've never met. I'm excited to welcome them back to Fort Campbell and let them know that Fort Campbell has not forgotten their sacrifice."