By Trish MunteanJune 4, 2014
FORT LEE, Va. (June 4, 2014) -- About 50 Gold Star Family members and their relatives joined installation leaders and other community representatives for a May 29 Butterfly release ceremony at the Survivors Memorial Garden on Fort Lee.
The second annual gathering was organized by the Army Community Service Survivor Outreach Services program. Angela Bellamy, the event organizer, described it as a time of healing and a show of support to surviving families.
"It provides a moment of reflection," she said, "and a time to share the memories of their fallen loved ones and what that sacrifice means to the nation. It's also about our community coming together to show its support to these families. The significance of their loss will never be forgotten."
During the ceremony, the families gathered in a circle around the pictures and names of 60 fallen service members. The families had an opportunity to identify the loved ones they had lost. The roll call included the recently fallen as well as those who date back to the Vietnam War.
The invocation was given by Chaplain (Col.) Chester Egert, installation chaplain. He prayed for the ceremony to be "a time of comfort, a time of peace, a time to strengthen the bonds between us as a military family."
Each participant then received a folded sheet of paper that held a monarch butterfly. Together, the group released the butterflies. Judging by the looks of contentment and smiles on participants' faces, the release brought comfort, peace and more to the families in attendance. Those who arrived as strangers just a few moments earlier shared smiles, laughter, hugs, tears and stories about their loved ones.
The emotion of the community gathering was summed up in a poem titled "Wish Upon a Butterfly" that was read during the event:
As you release this butterfly in honor of me,
Know that I am with you and will always be.
Hold a hand, say a prayer
Close your eyes and see me there.
Though you may feel a bit torn apart,
Please know that I will be forever in your heart.
Now fly away butterfly, as high as you can go,
I'm right there with you more than you'll ever know.
"When you think of butterflies, you picture something very whimsical," said Maj. Marissa Alexander, the surviving spouse of Staff Sgt. Leroy Alexander who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005. She attended the ceremony with her children, Alaya and Avery, her sister Milinda Jefferson, and her parents Blaine and Rebecca Jefferson. It was her first butterfly release.
"This is a very cathartic way to reminisce about those who have passed on … the people you love," Alexander said. "It provides a sense of whimsy to think that this little life force in this butterfly can send a possible message to your loved one. It's a conveyance that's grander than us and a reflection of what the (Survivor Outreach Services) does … the spirit of unity that it's trying to achieve."
Sgt. 1st Class Jillene Fenton was remembering her brother, Sgt. Dayne D. Dhanoolal who was killed in Iraq in 2008, when she released her butterfly. "I just miss him. I really do," she said. "It's hard, it's really hard. But he's my angel now."