Gov. JB Pritzker said Sunday at the Middle East Conflicts Wall in Marseilles that no one understands the true price of freedom like the nation's Gold Star mothers and families.
"[Their] humility and service to community truly are inspirational to us all," said Pritzker, in a ceremony Sunday honoring Illinois Gold Star mothers and the Illinois National Guard.
Since 1936, after the passage of a joint congressional resolution, the U.S. has recognized the last Sunday of September as Gold Star Mother’s Day. A Gold Star Family is the immediate family members of a service member who died while serving in a time of conflict.
"All who are given this title of Gold Star, a title most of us didn't know existed prior to becoming one, have at one point or another been asked to explain, 'What is a Gold Star?'" said Denise Williams, president of the Illinois chapter of Gold Star Mothers, who lost her son, Army Pfc. Andrew Meari, on Nov. 1, 2010, while serving in Afghanistan. "A Gold Star is a mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife or child of those few, rare, remarkable people who selflessly risked and sacrificed their lives in the defense of us all and in defense of an idea that is there United States of America."
Pritzker spoke at the ceremony that was much smaller than in past years because of the pandemic, but added was still so very important to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
"As governor there a few tasks more solemn then when I have attended the funerals or the official return of the remains of soldiers who gave their full measure of devotion to this nation's defense," he said. "The young men and women of Illinois who bravely deployed to serve in our armed forces, to protect our nation and our families. Who knew there was no guarantee of a safe return.
"I'm well aware that my pride in them and my sorrow bares no comparison to what the families of these heroes feel. It's with great pride and great humility that I come before you today as Gold Star families, and in particularly our Gold Star mothers.
"While I can never truly know your pain, here is what I do know. All of you who have dedicated yourselves to carrying on the work and the memory of your loved ones are the very, very best of us. No one understands the true price of freedom like our Gold Star mothers and families ... "
Many times after explaining what a Gold Star is the next question Williams says isn't a direct question of what it means to be a Gold Star, but rather, "How can we honor your loved ones sacrifice?"
"That answer is one that everyone that has the privileged of living in the country should know. Simply, be worthy," Williams said. "Be worthy of their sacrifice, be worthy of the greatest gift you could ever be given. Simple words be worthy, but the most important thing we could say. Too often they don't understand why and they need to hear the answer to the unasked question of what does it mean to be a Gold Star."
Williams said it is important we tell the stories of not only how those that served died, but also how they lived. She said the Gold Star family depends on one another, helps to remember their loved ones, but also shows appreciation for others remembering them well.
"In time the greyness that all we could see when we arrived began to fade and we realized the colors were always there, it was our shattered hearts that were unable to see," Williams said. "It takes time to grow the eyes that can see the beauty past the horror and the grace after the tragedy."