May 6, 2014
By Ms. Chrystal N Smith (IMCOM)
WIESBADEN, Germany - For one survivor, it had been less than five months since the death of his son. For a wife and daughter, only six months have passed. A sister was present whose brother died during the Vietnam War.
Regardless of when the loved ones were lost, the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden community thought it vitally important to commiserate with the survivors of fallen Soldiers and honor their sacrifice during a ceremony April 22.
Col. David Carstens' father survived the sinking of the SS Leopoldville and combat during the World War II. And though his father never talked about his military service, Carstens said, the revelation of why bridged seamlessly with the reason many gathered for the somber event.
Carstens, USAG Wiesbaden commander, told of how his father stayed connected with the families of many of the men who died from his unit during that tragedy. He shared a special bond with the widows and children of his fellow comrades and honored their memories for the rest of his life.
"The tragedy brought them together, but it was their bond with the military that kept them together," he said. "Like our Soldiers today, this 'greatest generation' served out of a sense of duty, honor and respect for their country. These feelings transcended the deceased and were embraced by their families."
It was that sentiment that the occasion for the Gold Star Spouses and Survivors Recognition Day exemplified.
"I hope these shared feelings and that special bond keep all of you together in our community," Carstens said.
Just outside of the Wiesbaden Fitness Center stands a small memorial garden. At its center is a linden tree that was given to the garrison by the city of Wiesbaden in June 2012. Carstens said the tree symbolizes community, friendship and protection, and in many German towns and villages linden trees represent the literal center of a community where people gather in its shade and sweet floral aroma. Placed around the tree are benches inviting people to gather, sit and enjoy. And sealing the location as a landmark is a plaque -- donated by the Wiesbaden Community Spouses Club -- that reads "In memory of fallen Soldiers, and to honor and recognize the sacrifices of their families."
Placed nearly at the center of the Clay Kaserne hub of activity, the memorial place stands to remind the survivors that they can always find genuine support in the heart of the Wiesbaden military community.
"I make you a solemn promise that the community and resources of this garrison will always be here to assist you," said Carstens.
"We are here for the survivors," said Irma Sneed, Survivor Outreach Services coordinator. "If a survivor comes to us, regardless of when the loved one died while serving on active duty, we would provide them services."
The survivors and next of kin were recognized with Gold Star pins that symbolize that they lost a loved one while they were in service to the nation. The Department of Defense distributes the Gold Star lapel button or Gold Star pin with the purple background to family members of fallen service members who lost their lives during conflict or in support of certain military operations.
And though the occasion unsettled the once-quelled emotion of losing a partner, parent, child, sibling or friend, some of the survivors accepted the good-faith gesture of the Army community as confirmation that they can always find refuge, comfort and support in the military.
"It's a nice way for us to know that we are not forgotten," said Claudia Pena, whose husband died nearly a decade before while serving on active duty. "After eight years, we are still a part of the Army family and not just a number in the system."
"It's important that we recognize and honor survivors so that they know they have not been forgotten and can remain part of the Army family for as long as they desire," said Sneed.
Additionally Sneed acknowledged the WCSC for generous contributions provided to support Army Community Service in making the event happen.
Learn more about the Gold Star pin by visiting http://goldstarpins.org.
Visit www.wiesbaden.army.mil/sites/mwr/SOS.asp to find information about Survivor Outreach Services and links to other resources.