Gold Star families honor loved ones
September 29, 2010
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Flickering candles lined the pier at Semmes Lake Sunday evening during a remembrance of fallen South Carolina Soldiers.
Despite the threat of rain, family members and organizers lit all 188 luminaries, each one representing a Soldier killed since 2001.
"It is wonderful that they are doing this and showing that they care," said Sheila Lemons about the post Survivor Outreach Services staff, who hosted the program. Lemons' husband, Staff Sgt. Jerome Lemons, was killed in Iraq in 2004. "It is about expressing our love and reaching out to others."
The luminary lighting was held in conjunction with Gold Star Mothers and Family Day, which is observed the last Sunday in September.
"We thought it would be a very subtle way and something elegant that the families could reflect over the water with the sun going down," said Leslie Smith, Survivor Outreach Services coordinator. "It was our own little thing for South Carolina Soldiers."
Hampton Caughman, whose son Spc. Thomas Caughman was killed in 2004 in Iraq, said he appreciated the luminary observance Survivor Outreach Services and Army Community Services put together.
"We have tried to stay involved with the survivor groups. It is not a group anyone would want to be in," Caughman said. "I feel obligated to continue what my son started and make sure people don't forget the sacrifices our Soldiers did for our nation."
The 81st Regional Support Command building on post now bears the younger Caughman's name.
In addition to lighting candles honoring their fallen Soldiers, family members were given a chance to connect with each other.
"It gave the families a chance to get together and talk. We were hoping for some networking among the families," Smith said. "But this was our way of letting them know they are still part of the Army family and that we care about them."
Survivor Outreach Services also helped organized a Wall of Remembrance earlier this year in the Strom Thurmond Building. On it are the photos of 13 fallen South Carolina Soldiers. Thirteen maple trees were also planted in front of the building in memory of Soldiers killed since 9/11.
"Survivor Outreach Services is a program ... we hope families will be comfortable with," Smith said. "We look forward to planning many more thoughtful events."
About 69 percent of South Carolina's surviving family members are parents, said Smith.
"We have a low rate of spouses but a high rate of parents," she said. "So we need to make sure we focus a little more on parents and siblings."
Survivor Outreach Services' mission is to expand and improve services to family members of fallen service members; advocate on behalf of survivors and help streamline the assistance process; and provide financial and benefits counselors to survivors and family members.
To contact Survivor Outreach Services, call 751-4867.