Pace Salutes Gold Star Families in Chicago Memorial Day Ceremonies
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 28, 2006 The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff offered condolences here yesterday to families of fallen servicemembers, many observing their first Memorial Day as Gold Star families, and assured them the country will never forget their sacrifice.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace signs a message for a Gold Star parent at the conclusion of the Chicago Memorial Day parade May 27. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"I don't know what words I could possible say to you that can let you know how much all of us care ... and somehow ease your pain," Marine Gen. Peter Pace told 36 Gold Star Families, nearly half of whom lost loved ones within the last year.
Pace met with the families privately before placing wreaths in remembrance of their loved ones at downtown Chicago's Eternal Flame memorial. Following the ceremony, the chairman, along with Chicago Mayer Richard Daley and Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, attended Chicago's Memorial Day Parade, with Pace serving as the parade's grand marshal.
During the wreath-laying ceremony, Pace presented Gold Star flags to 14 families who had not yet received theirs.
Pace told the families he hopes days like Memorial Day bring them comfort in some small way and reminds them that the nation recognizes their losses. The American people enjoy the freedoms they have, thanks to the sacrifices of their loved ones and those who have sacrificed throughout the country's history, he said.
The United States will always appreciate what they've given and will honor their loved ones, he told the families.
"You have my personal promise that as long as I wear this uniform, I will do everything in my power to honor the memory of your sons and daughters by doing the best we can to serve this country," he told them.
Diana Olson, a resident of Elk Grove Village, Ill., said she felt touched that Pace came to personally express sympathy for the loss of her son, Marine Cpl. John Olson. He was killed last year after volunteering for his third deployment to Iraq.
"It's awesome that he took time to come here and shake hands with us personally," Olson said of Pace's visit. "He reminded us that a lot of people recognize what heroes these young people are and how much they've given to us as a country."
Sandra Salem, also of Elk Grove Village, said she found comfort in Pace's words of appreciation for her daughter, Army Spc. Adriana N. Salem, who was killed in 2005 in Tikrit, Iraq. "You could tell it came from the heart, and that made it all the more special," she said.
Salem said it's reassuring to see the country recognize the sacrifice of its fallen troops and rarely misses the opportunity to attend a parade, ceremony or other event honoring them. The commemorations are bittersweet -- "very draining, emotionally and mentally," but also comforting because they honor her daughter, she said.
"It helps keep her memory alive," Salem said, admitting, "I was afraid people would forget."
Linda Pahnke, of Manhattan, Ill., fought back tears as she met with Pace and spoke of her son, Army Pfc. Shawn Pahnke, whose image was silk-screened on her T-shirt.
Since Shawn was killed in Iraq in June 2003, Pahnke said, she's gained a whole new appreciation of what Memorial Day really means. "We were always patriotic, but it's more than just a day to be patriotic and to have your little barbecue," she said. "It truly is a day to remember the fallen."
For Pahnke, every day has become Memorial Day. She visits Shawn's grave at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, in Elwood, Ill., regularly to "hear the silent voices" of her son and others who died serving the country.
Pahnke's biggest source of comfort is knowing Shawn died for something he believed in. "He was very proud of what he did," she said, and believed it would help ensure freedom for his child, who was born just three days after Shawn died. "He knew that, thanks to what he was doing, his baby will be able to grow up just like he did: happy and free," Pahnke said.
Christi and Ron Slavenas gathered with other Gold Star Families to meet with Pace and remember their son, Army 1st Lt. Brian Slavenas, a 30-year-old Chinook helicopter pilot killed in Fallujah, Iraq, in November 2003. "Part of the pain will always be with you, but you have to have the strength to go on," Ron said.
Memorial Day helps ease that pain and gives him a sense of pride that his son and others like him have been willing to sacrifice for what they believe in. "I am so proud of the great Americans who have served and put their lives on the line," he said.
Jim Frazier, a Gold Star father and volunteer who helped coordinate yesterday's Chicago Memorial Day events, said he understands more than ever since his son's death the importance of honoring Memorial Day. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jacob Frazier, a tactical air controller, was killed during an ambush in Afghanistan in March 2003.
"This isn't a sale weekend or a holiday weekend," Frazier said. "This is a weekend of remembrance."
It's a time to remember the sacrifices America's men and women in uniform have made, not just during the global war on terror, but back through the country's history to its pre-revolutionary roots, he said.
Forgetting the cost of the freedoms Americans enjoy could cause people to become "careless," Frazier said. "When we forget the cost, then we are likely to make some serious mistakes," he said.
Frazier said he doesn't begrudge people their Memorial Day celebrations. "Do what you'd like to do and enjoy your day off, but remember why you are getting the day off," he said. "You are getting that day off at a tremendous price, paid by many, many people throughout our history."