By Sgt. David LietzOctober 1, 2019
WHEATON, Ill. - U.S. Army Spc. Jesse Tilton served as a medic with the 82nd Airborne Division in Kandahar City, Afghanistan. On July 13, 2010, around 10 p.m., six Taliban suicide bombers attacked their base near the gate where they lived.
"They used a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device that exploded near us. The VBIED opened up the wall and allowed the suicide bombers to enter the base. I was hit in my legs and arm. We ended up falling back to our old aid station," said former Army Spc. Brian D'Allura. "I was on my back and Jesse came up and started patching up my arm but something hit us. Jesse was hit in the head. I was knocked unconscious by the blow. When I came to, Jesse was laying over me protecting me."
Tilton was critically wounded and put on a flight to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. His mother, Julie Magana, of Decatur, Illinois traveled to Germany and was with her son when he died July 16, 2010 at 23 years of age.
"I knew Jesse since he was four years old. He was such a cute little guy," said Merry Neff, a long-time friend of Magana, who traveled with her from Decatur to attend a Gold Star Mother's Day luncheon. "Smart as a whip!"
Even after Tilton died, he managed to save three more lives.
"He donated his heart, liver and kidney. All three of those were successful," said Magana.
Additionally, the Soldier, D'Allura, whose life Tilton saved is getting married in June 2020. He works as a certified optometrist in Toms River, New Jersey. This is just one of many stories from the Families that attended the Gold Star Mother's Day Luncheon at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois on September 29, 2019.
Lt. Gen. Thomas S. James Jr, Commanding General, First U.S. Army, Rock Island Arsenal, was the keynote speaker at the luncheon.
"These young men and woman are patriots. They are optimistic. They are brave and they are the best of us. They risk everything for those on their right and left. You taught them that service was noble. Their greatness of spirit, greatness of heart came from you," James said to the Gold Star Mothers.
Members of the Illinois Patriot Guard stood in silent tribute as the Gold Star Families entered the LeJardin Room at Cantigny Park.
"Today and every day the Gold Star Families are why we are here," said David Gier, Senior Ride captain for Region One, Illinois Patriot Guard. "I honor them today and every day."
Master of Ceremonies, Jim Frazier, Survivor Outreach Services coordinator for northeast Illinois, opened the ceremony with heartfelt words during his final day on the job.
"This is my final day doing this job. It couldn't be a better day to celebrate and honor our Gold Star Families," he said. "Every one of our fallen had to have a mother. That mother loved that service member. They have raised the kind of man or woman that raised their hand and said, 'take me.'"
Frazier is also a Gold Star father. His son, Staff Sgt. Jacob Frazier, who served with U.S. Air Force Special Operations, was killed in Afghanistan in 2003.
Following the opening remarks, cadets from Lincoln's Challenge Academy posted the colors. And then Linda Chapa La Via, Acting Director, Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, welcomed the Gold Star families.
"If I could serve one veteran, my life is complete. There is nothing more humbling than to be here today. Under my watch, your loved ones will not be forgotten," said Chapa La Via.
Brig. Gen. Mark C. Jackson, Assistant Adjutant General, Illinois Army National Guard extended his gratitude to the Gold Star Families and talked about the beginning of the Gold Star Mother's tradition.
"The tradition of Gold Star began in World War I. A gold star was sewn over a blue star to show the service member gave their life," explained Jackson. "President Woodrow Wilson coined the term Gold Star Mother."
Wilson used the term 'Gold Star Mother' in a letter he wrote to Grace D. Seibold who lost her son, 1st Lt. George Seibold, in France during World War I. Seibold is recognized as the first 'Gold Star Mother'.
Governor J.B. Pritzker, who was also in attendance, proclaimed September 29, 2019 as Gold Star Mother's Day in Illinois.
"I want to say what a deep honor it is to be with you, the Gold Star Families. Military Families carry an unseen burden. They carry the knowledge their loved one may never come home. Our security carries a high price. Each loss carries a shattering pain. You never leave the memory of your loved one behind. You carry it every single day," he said.
Pritzker called Gold Star Families a source of inspiration to all and added that we must never forget those who served and died serving in the armed forces.
During remarks, James shared a story about Army Specialist Michael Isaiah Nance, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, who was killed in a suspected insider attack on July 29 in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
"Specialist Nance was one of the greatest Soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division. Michael had wanted to be a Soldier all his life. He was also known to bring a sense of humor to his fellow Soldiers," said James.
After the keynote address, each mother came forward to receive a yellow rose and a heartfelt hug from each dignitary.
After the luncheon, James further expressed the significance of the Gold Star Mother's luncheon.
"We have to remember them. We have to know their Families. That's why we have events like this so we can wrap our arms around them. They will always be a part of our Family," James said.
"They are brave and strong women," said D'Allura, who keeps in frequent touch with Magana, the mother of the Soldier who saved his life. "They sacrifice themselves."