The Pentagon Now Has a Permanent Memorial to Families of the Fallen

Gen. Mark A. Milley speaks at the Gold Star Memorial unveiling ceremony,
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Mark A. Milley speaks at the unveiling ceremony of the Gold Star Memorial at the Pentagon, Oct., 29, 2020. (Screen shot from Dept. of Defense video)

Capt. Daniel Eggers. Spc. Garrett Fant. Maj. Gen. George Casey, Sr. Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon Kent. George, Frank, Joe, Matt and Al Sullivan.

Behind the nearly 1.3 million Americans who have died for their country in combat, including the above-named men and women, a family grieves.

And now the Pentagon has a memorial to honor them.

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The Department of Defense unveiled a tribute to Gold Star families Thursday at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, the newest addition to the numerous historical displays and tributes seen throughout the building.

The memorial, which recognizes the families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice, came to be through the dream of Jane Horton, an advocate for Gold Star families and widow of Spc. Christopher Horton, who died Sept. 9, 2011 in Afghanistan when his Oklahoma National Guard unit came under fire.

"Behind every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman willing to give their all, there are loved ones who support us in service and in sacrifice," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said during the brief event, broadcast globally for families to attend.

"These are Gold Star families whose lives take on new meaning to preserve and honor the memory of their loved one," said Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan. "One such example is [Army] Col. Rebecca Eggers ... Gold Star wife to Capt. Dan Eggers with the 3rd Special Forces Group in Afghanistan, Rebecca has sacrificed so much to still be in uniform. ... Today, their sons are following in their father's footsteps, studying at the Citadel."

The Gold Star lapel pin is awarded to immediate family members of U.S. service members who lost their lives in combat against an enemy of the U.S., while serving with allied forces in combat, in terrorist attacks against the U.S. or an allied nation or as the result of military operations during a peacekeeping mission.

The new display provides the history and meaning of the star on the service flags families often display at their homes and the lapel button they wear -- a Gold Star on a purple background.

It also features a rotating display on a specific Gold Star family that will switch every six months. Currently, the featured family is the Sullivan brothers, all five of whom were killed when the light cruiser Juneau was struck by a torpedo in the Battle of Guadalcanal and again, the following day, as it was leaving the Solomon Islands.

For Horton, who also serves as a senior advisor to Donovan, the dedication ceremony represents the culmination of years of work speaking for families of the fallen.

"When I wear this pin, I wear it to represent Spc. Christopher Horton, because if I don't tell the world that he existed, and tell their stories, who will know?" Horton asked.

Milley said the display will educate those who pass it, including visitors to the Pentagon once tours resume, on the sacrifices families make -- when their loved ones join the military, and if they die in service.

But, Milley added, people do not need to be part of the military community to keep alive the memories of the fallen.

"We can honor them every day by reading a newspaper and remembering that freedom of the press was paid for by Garrett Fant. Or go to church or a synagogue or mosque or choose not to believe at all and recall that freedom of religion was not earned by the preacher or the priest but by Chris Horton or a Marine's blood on a distant battlefield. Or go to a courtroom and be thankful we have due process of law, paid in full by the crew of an aircraft shot down by enemy fire. Or pretty soon, go and vote and pause for a moment to reflect on that precious right to choose our leader, and know that that right was earned by Shannon Kent or Dan Eggers," Milley said.

During the ceremony, Donovan also announced that Gold Star families will soon be able to log into the website Military OneSource and access a password-protected portal that contains resources and reference materials pertinent to them.

"This will be interactive and informative and will assist us to better help you with your needs," Donovan told families watching online.

The dedication ceremony was largely virtual, with military leaders and the few Gold Star family members attending wearing masks and mostly practicing social distancing in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, a room dedicated to recipients of the Medal of Honor.

Mariah Smith, sister of Shannon Kent, who died in Syria on Jan. 16, 2019, when a suicide bomber detonated his vest near a restaurant known to be frequented by U.S. personnel, sang the national anthem, while Christopher Horton's father, David, a minister, delivered the invocation.

"As scripture reminds us, in the words of Christ, greater love hath no man than this, that a man who lay down his life for his friends," David Horton said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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