By Sgt. 1st Class Scott Raymond, Kentucky National GuardNovember 7, 2018
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Hundreds of Gold Star Family members were honored at the ninth annual Survivors' Day at the Races at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 4.
Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief, National Guard Bureau joined Kentucky Guardsmen and senior military officials to welcome nearly 900 wives, husbands, daughters, sons and relatives of fallen Service members for a day of fellowship and healing.
"It's important to stay connected to our Gold Star Families. We can never thank them enough for their sacrifices. They are part of us," said Lengyel. "I'm inspired by their strength and humbled by their sacrifice. We have got to stay connected to them."
The Churchill Downs, Humana Government Business and Kentucky Survivors Outreach Services-sponsored day is designed to recognize the surviving family members of military service members who have given their lives in defense of our nation. Family members and guests came from 16 states for the event.
LuluLima Nelson is from Utah. She lost her son Sgt. Brian Pedro in 2010 in Afghanistan while serving in the Army. Ashlynn Wilson, from Illinois, lost her husband, Army Pfc. Matthew Wilson June 1, 2009 in Afghanistan. Nelson and Wilson met for the first time at the event. They shared stories of their lost loved ones, and showed one another the tattoos they each have to honor their loved ones.
"It's a common bond. It's like family," said Nelson. "You meet these people and it's like meeting a long lost friend. It's something you have in common with them that you don't have with anyone else."
The Survivors' Day at the Races is the largest Survivors Outreach Services' event in the country to honor Gold Star Families. Highlighting the day was Race 5 named in honor of the Survivors of Fallen Military Heroes. Family members were randomly selected to present the trophy to the winning jockey and owners in the winner's circle of the historic horse racing track.
Activities throughout the day kept families entertained, but the opportunities to connect with other survivors were the most talked about.
"It's humbling to be in the room of so many families who have lost loved ones because of freedom," said Paul Zanowick, from Ohio who lost his son, Marine Cpl. Paul W. Zanowick II June 3, 2011 in Afghanistan.
"We share a common grief. It's healing to be here. We all share this."
Kathy Yates is from Rineyville, Kentucky. Her son, 1st Lt. Eric Yates, was killed Sept. 18, 2010 in Afghanistan.
"Today gives us a chance to know that we are not alone. That there are other people going through the same thing."
Mrs. Yates said there is a scholarship in the name of her son at Western Kentucky University where he attended college.
"We miss him and we love him. It's been eight years, but he's still a part of our life."
Lengyel, Kentucky Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Stephen Hogan and other military leaders mingled with the crowd sharing stories and reminding families they are not alone and the military is still here for them.
"We are all part of the men and women we have lost and they are all part of us," said Lengyel. "We cannot, and never will forget them."
Kentucky Survivors Outreach Services also coordinates a riverboat ride event each summer on the Ohio River that the families are also invited to.