Red, white, and blue candles arranged in the shape of heart flickered gentle in the dusk on Fort Stewart's Cottrell Field Sept. 29 as 14 Gold Star Families and other attendees gathered to honor the memory of fallen service members.

One by one or in small groups, the families and other guests placed additional luminaries onto the large concrete Marne patch in front of the parade field's reviewing stand as the sun left a pink blaze on the western horizon.

The event, hosted by the installation's Survivor Outreach Services, happens annually around Gold Star Mother's Day. Gold Star Families from throughout Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina attend the event.
The 3rd Infantry Division's deputy commander for maneuver, Col. (P) Andrew C. Hilmes, told guests the evening's dinner at Club Stewart, followed by the luminary display at the field, is in remembrance and celebration of loved ones and friends lost while serving the nation.
"We reminded our (Gold Star) Families, that we too, share their grief, that they are not alone," Hilmes said.

The 486 white-blooming crape myrtle trees of Warriors Walk stood silent sentinel during the ceremony. The closeness of the living memorial to the parade field, where farewells and homecomings occur, is deliberate, Hilmes said.

"They are fitting locations for community tributes like tonight," he said. "They also serve as a place for individual reflection. They are a sanctuary where we can retreat to after a long day to reminisce and to feel closer to loved ones and battle buddies taken from us far too early. They can also help us reset our frame of mind and clarify our sense of purpose when the toll of grief and despair seem overwhelming."

The heart-shaped luminary display on the field is a strong symbol, Hilmes said. While physical memorials weather with the passing of time, memories endure.

"The flame of the candles symbolizes the light that lives on in each of us, especially our Gold Star Families, as they continue to adapt to their new normal," he said. "It is our personal memories of the fallen that never fade and they continue to light the way for us. Like the light of a candle, those memories keep our hearts warm."