Commander honors local woman for service to Soldiers' Families
August 1, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- A northern New York woman who has volunteered her time and talents to provide a special gift for Family Members of fallen Soldiers received recognition Thursday for her efforts.
Valerie Parsons, owner of "Designs in Glass," has been making stained glass pieces to be sold at Off the Beatin' Path Gift Store on Fort Drum for the past several years. She creates works featuring drums, 10th Mountain Division patches, and one of her most popular pieces, service star banners.
In January 2007, proprietors Marlene Morschauser and Diane Langanelli asked Parsons to create something a little different from the blue service star banner pieces she made.
"Every once in a while there are special requests that come from different divisions on Fort Drum," Parsons said. "This one happened to be above and beyond. They asked me to make a gold star."
At the time, Parsons was unaware of the significance of the gold star. Morschauser and Langanelli explained that a gold star signifies that a Soldier has been killed in combat. It is presented to Family Members in recognition of this ultimate sacrifice.
"When they explained it to me, I decided there was not going to be a charge for it," Parsons said.
Parsons refused to accept any compensation for materials, time or the shipping of the gold star service banner. She also decided that she wanted to continue to provide these banners, at no cost, to the Families of all of Fort Drum's fallen Soldiers.
"I wanted to show my respect for those from Fort Drum who lost their lives in the fight for our freedom," Parsons said. "Every time I heard of a fallen Soldier from Fort Drum, I called the store to find out how many gold stars were needed for the Families."
The gift shop staff referred Parsons to the Protocol Office. Since 2008, she has provided a gold star piece for the Families of each fallen Soldier from Fort Drum. Her gold star service banners are presented to all Families attending Mountain Remembrance ceremonies on Fort Drum. If Families are unable to attend, gold stars are carefully packed and shipped to them.
Although she hasn't kept track of the total number of pieces created to date, she estimates that it is about 200.
Parsons creates each piece only after she receives word that a Fort Drum Soldier has been killed in combat. This means that she is able to reflect upon each Family Member's sacrifice as she creates the artwork to honor the fallen Soldier. She described the creative process as a very reverent, somber endeavor.
"Every piece represents a life. It is the best way I know to show my respect for those who died in the pursuit of freedom (and) for those who have lost a huge part of their Family," Parsons said.
During a private ceremony in his office, Maj. Gen Stephen J. Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, recalled having learned of Parson's gift a few months ago.
"A couple months ago at one of our other remembrance ceremonies, I was passing out some beautiful gold star stained glass," Townsend said.
After passing out the pieces, Townsend asked where they came from. He was surprised to learn that Parsons provided these items at no cost to show her appreciation, and that she had provided such a large quantity.
"She started this effort in the mid-2000s and has been giving them from her own heart since," Townsend said. "It's just amazing to me, this gift that you give."
Parsons was presented with the Outstanding Civilian Service Award for exceptionally meritorious service to the Families of the 10th Mountain Division Soldiers who have fallen in combat during the global war on terrorism. She said that she intends to continue to provide these stained glass pieces for Family Members of the fallen.
"I want to support the Families of these Soldiers. It's the least I can do," Parsons said.