FORT STEWART, Ga. - Fort Stewart soldiers, family and community members came together at the Main Post Chapel May 23 to honor family members of fallen service members at the Survivor Outreach Services Candlelight Vigil.

Cheryl Sowell, a SOS support coordinator, said 40 family members were expected at the event.

"It helps them realize that the Army still cares about them," Sowell said. "The thing we do the most is explain, because a lot of Family Members don't know about services and benefits that continue after a service member dies."

Sowell said her team explain benefits to the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who are not familiar with the military's way of doing things.

"They don't live this world. And, when they don't, they don't know how to navigate it. That's what we help them do," she said

She said the Survivor Outreach Services will stay connected to a family member as long as that family member wants to be connected. The Fort Stewart office serves families in Southeast Georgia and parts of Florida.

Col. Scott Jackson, Third Infantry Division's chief of staff-rear and guest speaker for the event, said there are more than 2,800 surviving family members from all services in the Coastal Region.

"Today, while we remember the loss of our men and women who have died in combat, we must also remember and pray for the thousands of Gold Star family members," Jackson said.

"Memorial Day is a day of recognition and remembrance and our military families, particularly our Gold Star families, are just as deserving of recognition and remembrance for their sacrifice.
"Every Gold Star flag or decal you see on a car or house, equates to a family that has given their country an irreplaceable loved one."

A Gold Star family member is one who has lost a loved one as the result of military service to our nation.

In 1917, Army Captain Robert Guysner wanted to make a simple flag that signified his two sons' service in World War I. Throughout the war families displayed Captain Guysner's flag in their windows.

These service flags had a blue star for each family member serving in the military. Many of the flags had several stars. Because so many military lives were lost in WWI, a new flag was developed.

Families who lost their loved ones in WWI began sewing a gold star over the blue star. Living service members were represented by a blue star and those who had lost their lives were represented by a gold star.

The oldest surviving family members at the event was 85-year-old Patricia Collins, who was there honoring her late husband, Brig. Gen. Fred Collins, who served more than 33 years in the Army including tours in World War II. He died in 2005.

"It [the event] is very important to realize they're not along and that other appreciates their loss, Collins said.