Pace Salutes Gold Star Families in Chicago
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
CHICAGO, May. 20, 2007 The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff offered condolences here yesterday to families of fallen servicemembers, personally recognizing their sacrifice to the nation.
PACE SALUTES GOLD STAR FAMILIES - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace and his wife, Lynne, meet with a group of Gold Star families in Chicago, May 19, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace made no formal remarks during his visit with about 45 Gold Star family members at Gibson’s restaurant. Instead, he and his wife Lynne slowly moved from table to table to personally greet each family member.
Kirk Morris, of Gurnee, Ill., a member of the Gold Star families, organized the event. His son, Marine Pfc. Geoffrey S. Morris, 19, was killed when his vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in Ramadi, Iraq, on April 4, 2004.
Morris said there are now 156 Gold Star families in Illinois who all share the loss of a loved one in combat.
After meeting Pace during Memorial Day services last year at Chicago’s Eternal Flame, Morris said he was happy to give the Illinois families a chance to meet the nation’s highest-ranking military officer. He said he had found the general to be “an exceptionally sensitive and sincere leader, with a whole lot of understanding of what’s going on.”
“To the general,” Morris said, “these men and women that fall are not just names. They’re real people. Sometimes you don’t get that feeling from a lot of our leaders. With the chairman, you know that he feels each and every one. Every drop of blood shed, the general feels is his.”
Jim Frazier, of St. Charles, Ill., who lost his son in combat, said he draws comfort from the Gold Star organization. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jacob Frazier, 24, a Special Forces-trained member of the Illinois National Guard, was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan on March 29, 2003, when his unit was ambushed.
“It’s a club that nobody wants to be a member of,” Frazier said of the Gold Star families. “People in the general population lose loved ones all the time. Losing a child in war is very difficult. We know when we meet and hug each other, we understand each other.”
“Memorial Day is a day for honoring our fallen,” Frazier noted. “Unfortunately, for all of our families here, Memorial Day is every day.”
Frazier gratefully acknowledged the chairman’s visit. “He could have done something else today,” he said. “He chose to be here with us.”
Wade Kaiser, of Bloomington, Ill, said Pace’s visit helped ease some of his family’s pain and grief over the loss of their son. Marine Lance Cpl. Adam Kaiser, 19, was killed Dec. 1, 2005, in Fallujah, Iraq.
“For the general to take time out of his busy schedule to meet with us is an honor and a tribute to our son,” Kaiser said. “It gives my family a great feeling – a sense of pride. I can’t think of many things that would be more of an honor, more of a help to us.”
Don and Kate Jansky, of Fox Lake, Ill., lost their son, Army Capt. Benjamin Jansky, 28, southwest of Baghdad on July 27, 2005. The couple said they are new to the Gold Star group, and they’re looking forward to getting more involved.
“As we talk to the families,” Kate said, “we find that their hearts are open. They give you a sense of belonging. They can relate. I’m sure we’ll be able to share our happiness and our sadness as time goes by.”
“It’s something I think we need, too, because the healing hasn’t started,” Don said. “The wound is still there.”
“I’m very proud that my son served,” Don added. “He wanted to serve. He felt God was leading him that way and that’s where he was supposed to be. But it’s sad because he was a very young man and he left two daughters and a wife.”
The Janskys also first met Pace during last year’s Memorial Day ceremonies. “I was very surprised at how moved he was,” Don noted. “That’s a hard thing to have emotions and be able to be tough, too.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel Maher II, of Gurnee, Ill., lost his brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Sean P. Maher, 19, of Grayslake, Ill., on Feb. 2, 2005, as a result of hostile action in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
“He willingly did what he wanted to do. I supported him for it,” said Daniel, who is now stationed near his family.
Maher’s mother Janet said she finds it very comforting to associate with other Gold Star family members. “They’re the only people who get it,” she said. “They’re the only ones who understand. You can say anything in front of a Gold Star and it makes sense.”
Maher affectionately remembered Lynne Pace from last year’s Memorial Day service, when the chairman’s wife consoled her.
“I couldn’t see straight,” she recalled. “She was very gracious. She turned my body away from the crowd and just held me. I didn’t know who she was. She came out of nowhere. I was very grateful for her thoughtfulness. And I think she was crying harder than I was.”
Turning to her toddler grandson, Braydon, who was born nine months to the day after Sean died, Maher smiled and said, “That’s our circle of life, and what a joy he is.”
Nancy Ebbers, of Bolingbrook, Ill., has lost two sons, both soldiers; Pvt. James Ebbers, 19, died Oct. 14, 2002, in Djibouti, Africa; and Army Spec. Matt Ebbers died in a car accident about three years after returning from Afghanistan in 2002.
Ebbers said the Gold Star families have been very helpful to her. “We get together a couple times a year at least,” she said. “I really love meeting with the Gold Star families and hearing their stories. It puts mine in perspective.”
Marine Maj. Lance Jackola, recruiting commander for the Chicago area, and Gunnery Sgt. Tim Kirk, a recruiting instructor for prior enlisted Marines, also attended the luncheon meeting.
“It’s great that the chairman shows his support to the families, especially in a small, intimate setting where he can actually spend some time and talk, vice a large gathering where he really doesn’t have time to sit down and talk to people,” Jackola said.
“There are so many different events that he could be a part of, but he chose to come out here,” Kirk said. “It’s obvious it’s very important to him to be here.”