By William Singleton
The greatest fear of those who have lost family members in military service is that their loved ones’ sacrifices will be forgotten.
Bluff Park resident Marynell Winslow is determined to make sure the memory of her son and other fallen Alabama servicemen and women lives on.
Winslow and her husband, George, along with former State Rep. Paul DeMarco, founded the Alabama Gold Star Families, a nonprofit support group for families of fallen Alabama service men and women. The group has grown beyond the Winslows to include several families and has successfully raised money to build a memorial to honor the state’s military servicemen and women who’ve died in the “War on Terror.”
The black granite monument was scheduled to be dedicated at American Village on Memorial Day. But this Memorial Day will pass without a formal dedication.
“We had hoped that this monument would have been dedicated at Memorial Day, but apparently they’re not going to have the site ready, so it will be dedicated at some point in the future,” Winslow said.
Winslow isn’t disappointed. She understands that the group is further along in its goal to preserve the memory of fallen military personnel and that the effort to keep their sacrifice alive is a never-ending one.
“We want to make sure that the huge price they paid for their country is not forgotten,” Winslow said.
Following the death of their 19-year-son, Ryan, a Marine killed on April 15, 2006 by a roadside bomb in Iraq, DeMarco met the Winslows, and the three discussed a way to honor the state’s fallen military servicemen and women.
“We were looking to create an organization where families could help other families, because there wasn’t really an organization doing that,” said DeMarco, who represented Hoover while he was in the Alabama Legislature.
The Alabama Gold Star Families follows in the footsteps of other Gold Star organizations that have formed as support groups for families of those killed during military service. Other such organizations include Gold Star groups for mothers and wives. The groups are named for the Gold Star Award given by the U.S. Department of Defense to honor those who have died in military service
The Alabama group, for the most part, exists to offer encouragement to each other and a listening ear for those still coming to grips with the death of a loved one.
“We have established some friends in this group who we communicated with frequently, several times a week,” Winslow said. “They’ve become some of our closest friends because they have suffered the same loss that we have, and there’s just a bond there that will absolutely never be broken because of the loss that we’ve all experienced.”
But the group also supports causes that perpetuate the memory of Alabama’s fallen soldiers. For example, DeMarco successfully sponsored a bill that established an Alabama Gold Star Families license plate. So far, about 400 Alabamians have registered for the tags, which are available only to the immediate family of a person killed while on active duty in any branch of the U.S. military.
Through another bill sponsored by DeMarco, the group also has a section of Interstate 65 in Chilton County dedicated to those killed in the War on Terror.
The memorial monument is another cause the group has championed successfully. Alabama Gold Star Families, with help of individuals and corporations, have raised about $45,000 for the monument.
The granite monument stands about five feet tall and three feet wide on each of its four sides. One side is dedicated to 9-11 with a sketch of the Twin Towers; other sides are dedicated to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The monument will be topped with a soldier’s helmet, rifle and boots in bronze and surrounded by bricks with the name, rank, years of service and date of death of every Alabamian who died in the War on Terror.
“Many of the families purchased their own family members’ brick,” Winslow said. “For those who don’t know about the memorial, we had people from the community come forward and help us raise the money to include their names.”
DeMarco said it takes special people to push past their pain to encourage others, and the Winslows have done just that.
“That says a lot about them and the state that we live in that they have worked tirelessly to help other families in the same situation,” he said.
Winslow said being involved in the Alabama Gold Star Families and helping the public remember the contributions of those who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice is the least she can do.
“Losing a family member is tragic, but losing a child – even if he’s a 19-year-old man serving in the military – is just the most tragic thing you can ever imagine,” she said. “Yet out of that tragedy something good had to come, and keeping this in the eye of the public and letting them know the price so many people in the military pay and how valuable they are, it’s just something that had to be done.” ϖ