It took nearly 34 years, but the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command and Redstone Arsenal Survivor Outreach Services proved that it is never too late to recognize and honor the family of a fallen service member.
SMDC/ARSTRAT Commander Lt. Gen. James Dickinson and his wife, Angie, presented Gold Star pins to the family of Marine Corps Maj. William Winter during the command and SOS’s “Out of This World” celebration at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
Winter lost his life Oct. 23, 1983, when a suicide bomber ran a truck of explosives into the four-story barracks occupied with more than 300 U.S. Marines in Beirut, Lebanon. A total of 241 were killed that day; 220 of those were Marines.
“No ceremony will ever fill the void that you feel. But we can, all of us can, and we must, honor you, and in doing so, we honor him,” Dickinson said. “It is your strength and your resilience that makes all of us stronger, and gives meaning to our very lives and to our military service.”
Winter’s wife, Melia Collier; his daughter, Amanda; and his son, Michael, accepted the Gold Star lapel buttons.
“This type of support wasn’t available 30 years ago,” Collier said. “You didn’t seek counseling; it was a sign of weakness. You just dealt with it on your own the best you could.”
Collier said receiving the Gold Star pins gave her and her family a feeling of inclusiveness they have not experienced before.
“It’s an opportunity to be included in a community of our peers, others who understand,” she said.
Amanda, who discovered SOS through the program’s Living Memorial display during Huntsville’s Cotton Row Run, said receiving the Gold Star pin was not about recognition, but about remembrance.
“This presentation gave us the opportunity to honor the sacrifice made by all of our military men and women and their families and to consider what we can do to help others,” she said.
SOS coordinator Kerrie Branson said giving support and encouraging connectivity is what the program is all about. SOS provides opportunities for families to be around others who understand what they have gone through.
“There’s something very powerful about that,” she said.
Branson relayed an experience she had during a Veterans Day parade with two 5-year-olds who were riding on the Gold Star float, sitting next to each other holding posters of their dads.
“One said, ‘My dad was killed by a bad guy in Afghanistan.’ The other replied, ‘My dad was blown up by an IED.’ The mother of one of the children said how sad it was that they had to have that conversation, but how awesome it was that they could have it with each other.”
The day’s event included crafts for children and adults, face painting, lunch and a video message from retired Army astronaut Col. Shane Kimbrough, who at the time of the filming was commanding the International Space Station. Nearly 70 surviving family members and guests attended and about 90 volunteers participated.
Dickinson said he was honored to host the important event.
“Angie and I are committed to this program,” he said. “We understand the importance of making sure our Gold Star families remember that they’re part of our Army family and will not be forgotten.”