What does being a hero mean? Most associate heroic behavior with stories of a courageous soul risking his or her life to save others. A hero is selfless. A hero is brave. A hero helps others, even at the expense of his or her own comfort, security, and sometimes, life. There are many who have acted heroically throughout history, and their stories have inspired others to be courageous.

Often overlooked in the category of heroes are American Gold Star Families. An article from Voice of America defines these families as “immediate relatives of members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have been killed in combat or in support of certain military activities.” The “Gold Star” umbrella also includes families of fallen firefighters and policemen. By losing a loved one that was selflessly serving our country and communities, Gold Star Families have made the ultimate sacrifice.

The loss of a United States soldier, firefighter, or cop in action is heartbreaking. Not only does it hurt our country, but it especially hurts the families that lost a parent, child, sibling, or grandchild. Every person who has had a loved one serve to defend our country or our neighborhoods knows the sting of goodbye, as well as the hopefulness that goodbye is merely “see you later.” But there are no guarantees. Gold Star Families understand this more than anyone, and they have experienced every family’s worst nightmare: the loss of an irreplaceable son, daughter, brother, sister, mom, dad, husband, or wife.

The Gold Star concept originated during World War I in conjunction with service flags. A family’s flag was decorated with one blue star for each immediate family member serving in the war. If a family member died in the war, the blue star was changed to a gold star.

During that time, groups began to form to provide support and comfort to those whose loved ones had died. The first was the American Gold Star Mothers Inc., established in 1928. In further support of mothers who had lost a son in combat, Congress established Gold Star Mother’s Day in 1936. It is observed on the last Sunday of September. Another group is the Gold Star Wives, which was formed during World War II. Both groups still exist today.

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Gold Star Mother
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army IMCOM

The Gold Star symbol was originally used only for service members who had died in combat, but in 1947, Congress approved a second star to include families whose loved ones had died while on active duty. Both stars can be seen on flags or lapel pins like the ones shown below. The gold star with a purple background is presented to the immediate family of services members who died in combat. The gold star with a gold background is for families of those who died while on active duty.

According to a recent article in the LA TIMES, these symbols were most popular and respected during World War I and World War II. In the controversy surrounding the Vietnam War, however, the general public’s view of the government and military was quite negative. Families who had loved ones serving in the war were less inclined to use service flags with blue or gold stars. In more recent history, a sentiment of respect and honor has been justly restored toward the flags and stars.

Today the symbols are not universally known, and many are working to educate the public about the significance of the stars. While some might not recognize the meaning of a gold star service flag or lapel pin, those who understand its meaning hold these families in high esteem.

Gold Star Families have endured an extreme emotional trauma. While no amount of therapy or time can completely close that wound, we want to help make a tragic situation just a little bit easier. One goal of Forward Free’s Life Ranches is to provide a place of comfort and healing for Gold Star Families. If you are part of a Gold Star Family, our thoughts, prayers, and support are with you. You have sacrificed so much for the sake of our freedom and protection, and that is what a hero does.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]