By Rachel Hall
The table was set for a dinner guest who has never arrived back home to share a meal with family and friends. A white tablecloth, a single candle, a dinner plate, a slice of lemon and salt, an upside-down glass, and a single red rose tied up with a ribbon honored all POW/MIAs in the ceremony held at the Cleveland VFW Post 1839, on Sept. 14, also honoring Gold Star and Blue Star mothers and families.
“The Gold Star is the military award no one wants – the award commemorates the tragic death of military members who have perished while in the line of duty in hopes to provide a level of comfort to the parents and family that are left behind,” said VFW Auxiliary President Rhonda Kinder.
A Gold Star family can display a Gold Star flag for any family member who has died from an honorable cause – a military tradition honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice since WWI.
“While you may not think you know a Gold Star family, with approximately 472,000 Gold Star families reported by the national registry, you actually may. Tonight, we have a Gold Star mother with us – Ana Hernandez,” explained Kinder.
Hernandez, the mother of United States Marine Corporal Armando Hernandez from Splendora, Texas, shared memories of her late son and the legacy of friendship, intelligence, hard work and compassion he left behind within his home, his community, his school, and in his military service.
“I do have the privilege to say I have two great US Marines serving this country. My son, Carlos Hernandez, is now a captain in the Marines. I’ve always heard that once a Marine, always a Marine – and that is why I keep going for Armando,” said Hernandez, who is both a Gold Star and Blue Star mother.
Another Blue Star mother, Julie Dugger, was in attendance and honored on behalf of her daughter Kacee Dugger who graduated Splendora High School in 2023 before enlisting in the United States Marines.
“Her decision to serve her country at such a young age reflects her unwavering dedication to duty, honor, and the pursuit of excellence. Kacee is a shining example of the values of discipline, perseverance, and selflessness that the Marines stand for,” said Kinder reading a letter of recognition on behalf of Julie Dugger.
The ceremony for Gold Star and Blue Star mothers was about more than thanking members of the military and their families for their service – it was to extend comfort and a hug to those who grieve the loss of a loved one who honorably served, and to show support from the community for the families who are missing their loved ones currently serving to protect the country.
A prayer concluded the ceremony:
“Heavenly Father, we thank You that we live in a country where we are free to choose. We also thank You that there are those who would choose to leave their families behind and give their lives to fight for freedom. We ask that You keep them in Your care – give them strength and lift them up as on wings of an eagle, and bring them home safely. For those who are wounded in battle, we ask for strength and wisdom to carry on. For those who are missing or imprisoned, we ask for mercy, strength, and courage, until their safe returns to their families. For those who pay the ultimate sacrifice with their lives, we ask that You comfort the families and friends in their time of sorrow. We also ask that You keep watch over the families here at home – give them strength and courage while they pray for their loved one’s safe return. Amen.”