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PHOTO CAPTION:  Charlie Whittington, 4, hides his face as his grandmother, Norma Whittington comforts him. Charlie and his family attended the Gold Star Family Day ceremony at Heritage Park Veterans Wall in McDonough, Ga., Sept. 28, 2013, to honor his late father, Army 1st Lt. Charles Whittington. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Charles An/Released)

September 28, 2013
By Capt. Charles An

MCDONOUGH, Ga –The last Saturday of September was a perfect sunny day to enjoy some time out in a park. Nearly 20 different families gathered at Heritage Park in McDonough, not necessarily to enjoy the day, but to be honored and to remember their loved ones.

The families were all Gold Star families from Georgia taking part of a remembrance ceremony known as Gold Star Family Day, and to add a framed photo of their lost service member on the Wall of Honor inside the Heritage Park Veterans Museum. This is the third annual event, and this year there were 17 new portraits added to the wall.

The tradition of the Gold Star family originated from when each family would receive a service flag or service banner with a blue star representing a service member in their family during a period of war. If the service member died during that period of war the service member would then be represented with a gold star instead.
The Fort Gordon Army Survivor Outreach Services Program put the event together with the help of the volunteers at the Heritage Park Veterans Museum, soldiers from the Fort Gordon Installation Support Detachment, Strong Rock Christian School Chorus, and soldiers from the 3rd Medical Command Deployment Support.

The event started with a ceremony at the Heritage Park Veterans Wall of Honor, where the Fort Gordon Installation Support Detachment provided the Color Guard.

Soldiers of the 3rd Medical Command Deployment Support from Gillem Enclave, Ga., escorted the Gold Star families as they arrived.

For Sgt. 1st Class Karmen Walker, a soldier from 3rd Medical Command, said she volunteered because, “It was not only to support the families of the fallen, but to know the family members as well.”

Warrant Officer Richard Eswine, also from the 3rd Medical Command, echoed similar reasons why he volunteered at the event.

“It is the family members who stand behind us and support us that really make the military services work,” says Eswine. “This is an opportunity to come out and pay respects to the families, and let them know we appreciate them for all that they do.”

Judge James Chafin III, a retired Air Force colonel, was the key speaker giving remarks on the service and sacrifices made by the families.

Chafin called on everyone to remember that the sacrifices made by service members still continued by giving the example of Spc. James T. Wickliffchacin, 22, who died Sept. 20 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Wickliffchacin died of injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

The Strong Rock Christian School Chorus provided singing, and was followed by Randy Rawlings playing taps, which brought a somber remembrance of event.

The second part of the ceremony proceeded at the Heritage Park Veterans Museum where the Wall of Honor is located.

At the Wall of Honor, the Gold Star families presented a portrait of their lost service member to the color guard, and the color guard placed the photo on the wall followed by a salute.

“I feel honored because these were soldiers, military personnel who have come before me, who have given their lives for me to be here,” said Pfc. Tasia Pickett, a member of the color guard.

Staff Sgt. Michael Artis, also a member of the color guard, said with his “small part” he really did not do enough compared to what the families sacrificed.

For the only employee of Henry County that works at the museum, James Joyce, a retired Army Command sergeant major, he is proud to work with the eight volunteers of the museum.

Joyce was even more impressed by how everyone had the desire to volunteer for the ceremony, particularly by Capt. Dawn Gordon, the company commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Medical Command.

Gordon figured it was important enough that the commander should be the first to volunteer, so she and some of her soldiers took up family escort duties.

The people who gave the most to the ceremony were the Gold Star families.

Terry Whittington came with his family, including his 4 year-old grandson Charlie Whittington, to remember his son 1st Lt. Charles Whittington, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

Charles and Charlie never got to meet each other. Charles died before Charlie was born.

“I want to express my appreciation. Their participation serves in a bigger tradition, as part of a bigger family,” says Whittington, speaking of all those who took part of the ceremony to honor Charles.

With volunteered work, a lot of heart, unimaginable sacrifice, and many tears, the Gold Star Family Day of 2013 at Heritage Park was a success. But the greatest success was that the fallen service members were honored and remembered before their families.