Gold Star mothers honored in Ronan
RONAN — United States soldiers are an uncommon phenomenon. Unlike most other countries, the United States maintains a standing military composed entirely of volunteers. Moreover, these men and women fight for a cause and a belief that resonates with each and every citizen of these United States: freedom.
All too often, these young men and women do not return home. They paid the ultimate price for the freedom every American enjoys, and they didn’t do it for themselves — they did it for everyone else.
When a United States soldier dies in combat, he or she is almost always referred to as being a soldier. It is seldom acknowledged that the soldier was also a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, a brother or a sister.
Gold Star Mothers Day is a national day of recognition for the mothers of fallen soldiers. Designated as the last Sunday in September, the day of recognition was created and ratified by a joint Congressional resolution on June 23, 1936.
On Sunday in Ronan, nearly 100 veterans from all over Montana, Gold Star mothers, families, civilians, Mission Valley Honor Guard and Veteran Warriors Society members congregated at Ronan’s city park. The event was organized by Ronan’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall.
With the third annual Gold Star Mothers Day honoring ceremony just minutes away, friends, families and total strangers hugged and shook hands with genuine smiles and kind words, but the tears were not far behind.
Ronan VFW Hall Quartermaster Dale Morgan said the event is one of only three organized annual celebrations nationwide, and that it was about, “honoring our fallen brothers, sisters and their families and reminding people that freedom isn’t free. It comes at a high price.” Morgan said he uses the occasion to remember his fallen friends from the Vietnam War.
David Bell was one of the few in attendance who was not a veteran or the family of a veteran. Instead, Bell said, “I’m just a lifelong admirer of the sacrifices our veterans endure.”
Bell helped to spearhead the building of the Grateful Nation Montana Memorial at the University of Montana. The memorial contains five larger-than-life statues depicting a fallen soldier battle cross in the form of a pair of boots, a rifle and a helmet. Just behind the cross, a little boy holds his father’s dog tags. At his side, a teacher rests her hand on his shoulder while the child’s grandparents look on from behind.
The fallen Montanan soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan left behind 32 children.
With this in mind, Bell started a fund to pay for tutoring, mentoring and a 4-year full ride college scholarship for every one of the 32 children.
“It’s one little sliver of what dad would have if he’d come home,” Bell said. “But he didn’t come home, so the rest of us have to step up. It’s the least we can do.”
Brigadier General Matt T. Quinn drove all the way from Helena and canceled a previous appointment to give the opening speech. Just minutes before taking the stage, Quinn said the event represented the greatest sacrifice for a mother: losing her child.
Toward the end of his speech, Quinn said, “Edward Evertt Hale once said, ‘I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.’”
He then addressed the mothers in attendance directly, “May God bless you and may God bless America. We are all forever in your debt.”
Nick Bloem of Belgrade was killed in action Aug. 3, 2005, when his vehicle was attacked by an improvised explosive device. His mother, Debbie Bloem, gave a speech thanking the event organizers for helping to keep her son’s spirit alive and providing a way for other Gold Star Mothers to connect.
“To have somebody whose eyes you can look into and they just understand ... we don’t have to say much,” she said.
The ceremony ended after a moment of silence and a prayer. With the speeches concluded and guests beginning to make their way towards the parking lot, the honor guard members disassembled the flags, removed the podium and started to make their way towards the lot.
Bloem looked around, smiled and said, “You know, nothing can take the pain away. But, when the world stops for a minute and remembers, there’s just something so right about it.”