By Master Sgt. Gerrold Johnson, USA
CHICAGO, Sept. 26, 2006 – The Army and the Marine Corps' top enlisted leaders took part in a poignant Gold Star Mothers Day ceremony at Chicago's Navy Pier on Sept. 24. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps John L. Estrada read the names of 23 servicemembers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the global war on terrorism. Families of the fallen also were on hand to receive a Gold Star banner from Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn.
"Our Gold Star Mothers have raised young men and women, heroes, who have held us in the palm of their hands and in their hearts and protected us," Quinn said.
Near the end of the ceremony, families gathered to lay a yellow rose at the base of the service flag of their loved ones. Amid somber music and a tear-filled room, Danuta Kowalik of Des Plaines, Ill., laid her flower at the base of the Marine Corps flag. Her son, Lance Cpl. Jakub Kowalik was killed in Iraq in 2003. This is her fourth annual Gold Star Mothers Day ceremony.
"It gets so hard because you see more people, every single year, there are more of us," she said. "It doesn't get any easier for me, but I feel more for the other moms and families.
"I am like a veteran here. I sit in the back and more and more (new Gold Star Mothers) sit in front of me," Kowalik said.
Sandra Miller of Alsip, Ill., is a Gold Star Mother who also hasn't missed a Gold Star ceremony over the past few years.
Her son, Marine Capt. Adam Miller, was a helicopter pilot who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He died during a training exercise in 2004 after returning to Camp Pendleton, Calf.
"For me, it's not about it getting any easier, but more about me sharing my experience with maybe a new mother," she said " It's about how can we, as a state, keep these young men and women's memory alive, and that's why I continue to come here."
"Mothers of fallen servicemembers form an unbreakable bond with each other that strengthens not only the Gold Star Mothers organization, but our entire nation," said Preston, who flew in from Washington to personally offer his condolences.
Preston said he thinks the service today has become a family business, noting that many of the Army's senior leaders also have sons and daughters currently serving in harm's way.
"The majority of the soldiers serving today have a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother or sister who has served in the Army," he said. "Soldiers today join for different reasons, but they all have something in common -- the desire to serve a cause bigger than themselves."
Estrada offered words of encouragement in his remarks to the families. Those words are inscribed on the back of his military coin of excellence. "I live by something that says 'perseverance through adversity' so, during those tough times, I ask you to persevere and things will always work out," Estrada said.
He says that he mourns with the families for the losses they have suffered and hopes to someday live in a world without war. "But until then," he went on to say, "take comfort in knowing that your loved ones made a positive difference in this world."
The civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army for Illinois, retired Army Reserve Maj. Gen. John Scully, made three other special Gold Star presentations, during the ceremony. Army Reserve Pvt. 1st Class Justin King lost his battle with cancer in September. A local soldier escorted his mother, Pamela King, to receive her Gold Star banner. And, after 62 years, the families of Capt. Vladimir M. Sasko and 2nd Lt. David Nelson, U.S. Army Air Forces, were presented with Gold Star banners, as well. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command recently accounted for these two servicemembers who had been missing since 1944.
(Army Master Sgt. Gerrold Johnson is the chief public affairs NCO for Army Outreach Division - Midwest.)