WIESBADEN, Germany - While growing up, Col. David H. Carstens accompanied his father on visits with family friends where the discussions focused on life, family accomplishments and the future.
It wasn't until much later Carstens discovered the friends were former Soldiers who had survived the sinking of the Leopoldville with his father during World War II.
Nearly half the men on board died when the Germans torpedoed the ship on Christmas Eve 1944, but Carstens' father was lucky to not only survive but to be able to continue fighting until the end of the war. When Carstens' father met with his friends from the ship years later, they did not talk about the war, but focused on the positive.
Carstens, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, told the story at a Gold Star Wives Luncheon April 5 at the Community Activity Center on Wiesbaden Army Airfield. Gold Star Wives of America, Inc. is an organization that started in 1945 as a way to provide service, support and friendship to the widows and widowers of military personnel who died on active duty or as a result of a cause connected to service.
Like Carstens' father and his friends from the Leopoldville, the five widows and one child who attended the luncheon held a common, sad bond, but during their time together they accentuated the positive and looked forward to the future.
Angela Augustus, who lost her husband in December 2008, said the luncheon is a great way to honor the widows of fallen service members.
"It shows Gold Star Wives that we still belong to the community and are still a part of the community," Augustus said. "It's a way of keeping us connected and keeping us together as a family."
Sudarat Kirby, who lost her husband in 2010, said the luncheon is a good way to meet supporters of the Gold Star Wives chapter in Europe.
She is thankful for all the support people offer, Kirby said.
Brig. Gen. Aundre Piggee, commander of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, also spoke at the event. He pinned golden pins on the women and Alina Arsenault, 7, who lost her father. In addition, Piggee presented the family members with gift baskets.
During his remarks, Piggee said there is no honor greater for him than being able to honor Gold Star Wives.
He was the rear detachment commander of the1st Calvary Division at a time when the division lost 171 Soldiers, Piggee said, and he had the opportunity and honor to speak at every memorial ceremony. He always tried to meet with family members at every ceremony and provide comfort.
"I thought, 'What can I do?' This person gave everything." Piggee said.