By Stephanie Hunter
Special contributor to Navy Installations Command Public Affairs
For many, the month of May is synonymous with the unofficial start of summer, barbecues, beautiful weather and a long holiday weekend. The Memorial Day holiday was created as a day of remembrance to honor the men and women who have paid the ultimate price to ensure our freedom. Originally known as Decoration Day, it was dedicated to remembering those who died during the Civil War; this tradition continued until World War I when it evolved to honor all those who gave their lives in service to our country. Memorial Day was officially recognized as a federal holiday in 1971.
Today, while our primary efforts are to remember those fallen service members, we should also take time to acknowledge the sacrifices of those who they leave behind – our Gold Star families.. The Navy recognizes that no one has given more for our nation than the families of the fallen, and the Navy Gold Star Program is there for them as the Navy’s official long-term survivor assistance program. Its primary focus and mission is to provide an unprecedented level of service and commitment to our Navy Gold Star families.
Survivors eligible for this program are the widow, parents and next of kin of the fallen service member. The term “widow” includes widower. The term “parents” includes mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, mother through adoption, father through adoption, and foster parents who stood in loco parentis. The term “next of kin” includes children (including natural, step-children and children through adoption), brothers, sisters, half-brothers, and half-sisters. If a spouse remarries, he or she is still eligible for services and support.
Each survivor is assigned an Installation Navy Gold Star Coordinator who serves as the long-term support advocate and is responsible for service delivery. The coordinators provide – either directly or through appropriate professional resources – support groups, life skills education, assistance in managing applicable life-long benefits, transition milestones and referrals to counseling resources. Survivors can be connected to our Navy family for as long as they desire.
The Navy Gold Star Program has dedicated the entire month of May to recognizing our Gold Star families. Throughout out the month, we’re sharing what it means to be a Gold Star Family and our honoring Gold Star families by hosting events that pay tribute to their fallen loved ones and provide surviving family members with opportunities to connect with one another.
Editor’s note: Stephanie Hunter is a program analyst for the Navy Gold Star Program under Navy Installations Command.