FORT LEE, Va. – As a symbol of transfiguration and hope, the graceful and elegantly winged butterfly is a living metaphor of renewal and resurrection by which the soul transcends the physical world.
With that existential thought in mind, the Survivor Outreach Services office here conducted its latest annual observance in which Gold Star Family members released live painted lady butterflies in tribute to their fallen loved ones.
The Butterfly Release took place May 25 at the Fort Lee Memorial Garden as a pre-Memorial Day celebration of life and afterlife amid both tears and laughter.
“This is a special observance to honor and remember our military men and women who made a sacrifice to this nation,” announced Fort Lee Garrison Commander Col. Karin L. Watson in opening remarks. “As Memorial Day approaches, we look to honor those who died while serving our country, and we offer our heartfelt support to every survivor.”
The annual Butterfly Release is also a public show of respect and gratitude to the immediate spouses, children, mothers, fathers or siblings of a fallen service member who died while serving his or her country in uniform.
“While everyone else is having their barbecues and family gatherings all in the name of having a holiday off, just remember what Memorial Day is truly about,” said Marion Tate, the widow of Staff Sgt. Sheldon Tate who was killed in action on July 13, 2010, during an insurgent attack on an Afghan police compound in Kandahar City. “We know many don’t get it, but we will always have each other and our families to celebrate their lives.”
About 50 surviving family members attended this year’s emotional observance. During the ceremony, they took turns stepping up to the mic to speak the names of their deceased loved ones. Several base leaders, service members, civilian staff and community supporters respectfully observed the proceedings.
“I am reminded of the Wreaths Across America quote that says, ‘A person dies twice: once when they take their final breath, and later, the last time their name is spoken,’” Watson reflected. “That’s why this event is so important. It allows our community to see faces and hear each name of those who have given so much to our country.”
The Memorial Garden showcased portraits of the fallen service members, flanked by meticulously aligned rows of U.S. flags, and Gold Star Family members standing in a circle around a large, sculptured water fountain. Individual survivors released the orange and black colored butterflies into a crisp, 60-degree Fahrenheit sky, with many butterflies holding on to the fingers of survivors for several minutes before flying off onto nearby trees and flowers.
Survivor Outreach Services regularly emphasizes to the family members of the fallen that they will remain continually linked to the Army community for as long as they desire.