For Gold Star families, ceremony helps keep memories alive
Groton — None of them wanted this distinction.
Those who've lost a service member attended an inaugural event on Thursday recognizing their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their loved ones. The Naval Submarine Base hosted the event on the pier adjacent to the Historic Ship Nautilus, and officials hope to make it an annual event.
The event coincided with commemorations at Navy installations across the country in honor of Gold Star Mother's and Family's Day, which is on the last Sunday of the month.
The Gold Star mothers and families, as they are called, submitted the names of their loved ones to be read aloud, followed by the tolling of a bell.
"Their actions attest not only to the depth of their devotion, but also to a belief in their country so profound that they were willing to give their very lives for it," said Capt. Paul Whitescarver, commanding officer of the submarine base, after reading the submitted names.
Some said afterward that they felt the event helped to keep the memory of their loved one alive.
Kathryn Cross, whose son Tyler Connely, a Navy seaman who died in January 2002, said it was the first time in several years that she'd heard her son's name spoken aloud.
The symbolism of the gold star dates back to World War I, when white service flags were displayed in front of homes, businesses, schools and churches with a blue star to signify an active service member. A gold star stitched over the blue star indicated that a service member had died.
More than 10 years after her husband's death, Beth Dively, the widow of Air Force Maj. Duane Dively, on Thursday was presented with a Gold Star lapel pin given to families of service members who died during action against an enemy, during conflict or as the result of an international terrorist attack.
The Air Force recently reviewed the circumstances of Dively's death, determining his family should be recognized with the Gold Star pin, and requested that it be presented to Beth Dively on Thursday.
On June 22, 2005, Maj. Dively flew a nine-hour reconnaissance mission in his U-2 plane over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. On his way back to his base, his aircraft crashed in Southwest Asia after suffering catastrophic mechanical failure.
At the time of his death, the Divelys had been married 20 years. When he died, a huge part of her died with him, Beth Dively said. There was no one to come home to or go on a bike ride with or say "hi" in the morning and "good night" at the end of the day.
Dively, who lives in Old Saybrook, described her husband as humble and always willing to lend a hand. He was entrepreneurial; he built his own bike and guitar.
After his death, Dively wanted support, but she didn't know how to ask for it.
Gold Star programs are relatively new across all of the services, with the Navy's being just two years old.
The idea is to offer continued support to the families "after the business of death," as Beth Hundley, the Navy Gold Star Coordinator at the base, calls it. That is, after help is provided for funeral or memorial arrangements and obtaining benefits.
Hundley's area of responsibility includes all of New England, and she keeps in touch with the families she serves through email, phone and written letters.
Gold Star programs also serve as a way to bring the families together and to recognize them.
"This right here is fantastic. There wasn't enough of that," Debby Schurman said of the event, comparing it to the support available in 2009 when her son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Douglas Beichner, died.
"You hear about other people who've lost children, but where do you meet them?" Schurman said.
Monday will mark seven years since her son's death. She did not want to discuss the details of his death, saying only that he died shortly after returning home to Hamden from a deployment.
Beichner was a gas turbine systems technician and a search and rescue swimmer aboard the USS Kauffman, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate, where he served four tours of duty, according to his obituary.
Schurman described her son as somebody who could make anybody laugh. At his funeral, he was described as being the guy who could walk into a room of 50 grumpy sailors and have them laughing within 10 seconds, she said.
He left behind a sister, Alison Beichner, and brother, Daniel Beichner, who served in the Marines.
Daniel Beichner took the loss particularly hard, Schurman said, because his brother was his first best friend.
She is still in contact with Beichner's shipmates, who, she said, were like brothers to him.
Two of Chief Petty Officer Christopher Rice's daughters were in attendance Thursday. Rice died of a heart attack in 2009 while stationed in Kings Bay, Ga.
MariAnne Rice, 22, and Megan Howe, 26, both vividly remember service members showing up to their houses to inform them of their father's death. The next couple of months were a blur for each of them, they said.
Rice also left behind another daughter, Christine, and a son, Christopher.
The two daughters present Thursday described their dad as the glue of the family. He was goofy and laid back but also did what he needed to do. He was a pushover when it came to the kids, often responding to their requests for permission with "I suppose," they recalled.
Rice's family was presented with Gold Star pins in a ceremony at the base in June.
Danielle Goodwin, who lost her first husband 10 years ago, was there to honor him and to be there on behalf of his parents, whom she planned to tell later about the event.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Hafterson, who was stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., died in 2006 after suffering from a medical condition, according to Goodwin. Goodwin, now 29, was 19 at the time and said the couple had been married a little less than a year at the time of his death.
Goodwin has since remarried, and her current husband is an instructor at the Naval Submarine School. She said he's greatly helped her to cope with Hafterson's loss.
"I'm still healing, even after 10 years," she said.