A group of special West Virginia women carefully gathered at the Beckley VA Medical Center to decorate a significant tree, one meant to honor and remember their sons and daughters who lost their lives while serving in the United States military.
“To be able to place and decorate a Gold Star Tree, to honor our sons and daughters, is so special. The Beckley VA is a beautiful tree that helps Gold Star Families honor their children but also helps educate about Gold Star,” said Shirley White, President of the West Virginia Gold Star Mothers Association.
“Being able to do this and display our children's pictures on a decorative tree means is to honor them and their ultimate price paid. Hopefully, people will stop to admire the tree and then say the names. That is what makes us, the mothers, feel pride. By saying a name, our child is not forgotten,” White said.
Gold Star Mother Terry Cunningham participated for a third year, after losing her son Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Robert Cunningham in July 2018.
To ensure the safety of patients and employees, only a small group together on Saturday morning when the Medical Center has less foot traffic. The group did include Mariah Kegley from Enterprise, which is a sponsor of the West Virginia Gold Star Mothers. Two helpers from the 5K they sponsor every October also decorated. The Voluntary Service Office was also on deck to help.
“I enjoyed getting together with the moms and talking about our stories. It makes me feel love and support; sometimes you feel like you’re out there all alone when you lose a child.”
The tree is towering, filled with “Honor and Remember” flags and ornaments with each service member’s photograph, name, branch served, and rank. Beautiful gold and red ribbons flow from the top. It is in the Beckley VAMC Emergency Department waiting area and the first thing you see when entering the facility.
“The fellowship we experience also gives us a warm feeling. We understand each other and the fellowship becomes friendship. It’s always an emotional day, but we leave feeling that we have accomplished something for our children” White said.
West Virginia Gold Star Mothers help Veterans throughout the state during the year. Projects include helping Veterans with monthly bill payments, collecting supplies for the homeless, supporting Project Healing Waters, supporting the Honor and Remember Flag Ceremony program, and helping with Wreaths Across America programs throughout the state. Every year they fundraise and purchase wreaths for more than 3,000 Veterans’ graves.
This year the Gold Star Mothers donated more than $1,7000 worth of items, such as blankets, sweatshirts and pants, house shoes, puzzles, and activity books, that went towards Beckley’s Veterans.