By Tim Hipps, U.S. Army Installation Management CommandDecember 22, 2014
BALTIMORE (Dec. 22, 2014) -- Lt. Gen. David Halverson has been going to Army-Navy football games since 1975, when he was a cadet at the United States Military Academy. He estimates attending 15 of the 115 clashes of the archrivals during his 39 years in uniform.
Although he's not exactly sure how many games he has attended, the 115th Army-Navy game is one Halverson likely will never forget.
On Dec. 13, Halverson, as the commander of U.S. Army Installation Management Command and assistant chief of staff for Installation Management, welcomed Army and Navy gold star families to the nationally televised game.
"I would not want to be any place but here right now," Halverson said after leading the survivors of fallen Service members from the stands onto the field during pre-game festivities. "Our survivors are so important to us, because they know the price of freedom. We can sit here and talk about it, but they've experienced it.
"For us to be able to be with them right now and talk about their brothers, fathers and husbands, and see how they're doing, that means a lot," he continued. "We want to be able to continue to let them know that the Army family is always here for them."
During the past year, the U.S. Army Installation Management Command's Survivor Outreach Services has been raising awareness of the meaning and significance of the gold star. Actor Gary Sinise provided the voice for several public service announcements that feature moms and dads, brothers and sisters, husbands, wives and children of fallen Service members.
Halverson received first-hand feedback from each of those groups.
"They don't have to worry about ever imposing because we want to be with them," he said. "We want to hear about their fallen. We want them to know that we cherish them because they are the true heroes."
In 1947, Congress approved the use of the gold star lapel button, or pin, as a way to recognize the families of Service members who lost their lives while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States. In 1977, the Army approved issue of the pin for the next of kin of deceased personnel to honor those who died while serving on active duty or while assigned in a Reserve or National Guard unit in a drill status.
To demonstrate the Army's commitment to supporting gold star families and as part of the gold star awareness campaign, Installation Management Command Survivor Outreach Services and the Navy gold star program coordinated with presenting sponsor, USAA, which hosted 20 Army and Navy surviving military family members at the game.
Debbie Parrish, widow of Sgt. Maj. Harry Lewis Parrish, and her son, Seth, 5, were among the group. On Aug. 1, 2009, Debbie lost her husband and Seth lost his father, whom he never got to meet.
"It was a month before Seth was born," she explained.
At M&T Bank Stadium, Seth kept tugging on Halverson's pants leg, attempting to thank the general for giving him a commander's coin.
"He wanted to go up and personally thank him," Debbie said.
Halverson was encouraged by the feedback he received from the families.
"They are saying 'thanks' -- a pure and genuine 'thanks' -- thanks for remembering us," he said. "They are very proud of the sacrifices of their fallen, and that's what's most important. That's why we always say 'We shall never forget,' and 'Freedom is not free.'"
Halverson was impressed with "the sparkle and resiliency" the survivors exuded as they proudly shared memories of their fallen loved ones.
"It's really important for them to know that they're still in the Army," Halverson said. "We're a 'Soldier for Life,' and we want them to know that they're always welcome in 'The Army's Home,' and that the Army is their family. That's what the military lifestyle is all about. You get two families -- the one you were born with, and the one you serve with.
"We'll never forget, and we're always here for you," he said.
Parrish sensed that feeling, too, and she'll certainly never forget.
"It's been an emotional day, just listening to others share their losses and reflect back and to realize how honored Harry is to the Army," she said. "I told Seth as we were walking onto the field that this is honoring my husband and his memory and his service to the country.
"I feel like we're representing him," she said.
"That's really important for us," Halverson said. "And we will continue to be vigilant with our efforts."