“You see the uniforms at the door and you already know,” said Army Lt. Col. Rebecca Eggers. “You know what it is and I don't think there's really anything that kind of prepares you for how to deal with it.”
For Eggers, that knock came on May 29, 2004. Earlier that day, Army Capt. Daniel Eggers, husband to Rebecca and father to their two sons, lost his life due to an improvised explosive device attack on the vehicle he was in.
On that day, Eggers joined the ranks of over a million other Gold Star families who have lost a loved one in conflict.
“Getting to know a gold star family is getting to know a little bit of history,” Eggers said. “We talk about the gold star buttons and the lapel buttons and even though it's just a pin, there's an entire story, life and history behind that pin.”
In 1947, Congress approved the design, manufacturing and distribution of the gold star lapel button. The pin, a gold star on a field of purple surrounded by laurel leaves, provides appropriate identification for widows, widowers, parents and next of kin of service members who lost their lives during combat. The gold star is a symbol of loss dating back to World War I.
As a dual-military couple, the Eggers served in the Army as a team, both in uniform and at home. This is in part due to the Married Army Couples Program, which helps dual-military families get assigned to the same duty stations and stagger their deployments.
“While being dual-military was certainly challenging, I liked that it kept us connected,” Eggers said. “We were able to share much more about our daily lives based on a mutual understanding of each other's jobs and that made things easier for us. He had a true passion for the Army and I loved seeing that in him.”
Eggers and her sons received their gold star pins from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command commander.
Typical ceremonies consist of a unit memorial and then the families also have a funeral and burial. Also, units across the Army have yearly events for gold star families such as; runs for the fallen, boot displays, breakfasts, dinners and all kinds of events.
Eggers said she typically chooses to wear her pin when she is doing survivor advocacy work. Otherwise she keeps it on her dress uniform. She said she believes it's important to wear it in uniform because many of service members don't realize that there are uniformed survivors.
The years following the death of her husband, Eggers said the most difficult part was learning how to navigate through the process and providing the support her children needed. To cope with the loss and heartache, she said there were long stretches of time she wouldn’t want to discuss or talk about the loss of her husband.
“I stopped talking about their dad as much and they started forgetting,” she said of her sons. “They started forgetting how he died, starting forgetting what he looked like and started forgetting what he sounded like.”
Although it was difficult at the beginning, Eggers says it was the Army’s willingness to provide the time she needed to take care of her family that ultimately got them back on track and allowed her to continue service in the Army.
“The Army was really good about still allowing me to continue on a path that kept me relevant in my career but without forcing me to make decisions about my long term future until I was ready,” Eggers said.
Eggers stayed at Fort Bragg for five years and when she moved to her next duty station she had to deploy.
“When I finally had to make that decision to deploy, my kids were older and they would be staying with my parents so it was a good situation for them and for me,” she said. “I was in a good place and my family was in a good place. I think all of those factors really contributed to allowing me to heal as a person, our family to heal and that's what allowed me to be resilient.”
Eggers said her kids are doing great and both of them want to follow in their father’s footsteps by joining the military, despite her hesitations. Her oldest son is 20 and is attending college at the Citadel in South Carolina. Her youngest son is a senior in high school and is applying to colleges now.
When asked about what she’d like others to know about her family, she said she appreciates those who approach her to ask about what pin represents and signifies.
“I would rather you ask about our family because it honors Daniel by having the opportunity to share his story,” Eggers said. “The more people we can share his story with, the more it honors his legacy and what he did for the Army and our nation.”