Veterans of Foreign Wars Post (VFW) 9934 and Auxiliary, Dana Point city officials, military veterans and families gathered at Strands Vista Park on Saturday, Sept. 23, to celebrate the dedication of park benches to Gold Star Families.
Looking to honor the families whose loved ones died in the line of duty, the VFW and Auxiliary dedicated two benches overlooking the ocean at the Veterans Memorial in Strands Park, with a bronze plaque affixed to the back of each bench.
At Saturday’s ceremony, California Department VFW Senior Vice Commander Deborah Johnson called for the Gold Star benches to be a beacon of hope, “reminding us the principles for which our heroes laid down their lives: freedom, justice and equality are worth protecting, nurturing and defending.”
“Today, we gather to embrace and support the families that carry the weight of sacrifice and pay respect to their family members that paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation,” Johnson said. “The Gold Star Families have borne a burden that no one should ever have to bear.”
“They have given not only their loved ones, but also a piece of their own hearts to our nation,” Johnson continued. “The benches represent the lives of those dedicated to protecting our freedoms and securing a brighter future for all of us. As we visit this park, let us reflect and remember their stories of bravery, selflessness and the love of our country.”
U.S. Army Veteran Shawn Patterson, who embarked on a 425-mile walk from Dana Point to Salinas, California on Sunday, Sept. 24, held an Honor and Remember Gold Star flag during the ceremony on Saturday. He was joined by members of the nonprofit Legacies Alive, which aims to raise awareness and funds for Gold Star Families.
Orange County Fifth District Supervisor Katrina Foley shared her experience of losing her grandfather on base before she was born, and Kasey Condon, representing Rep. Mike Levin’s office, presented the VFW and Auxiliary with a certificate of recognition.
Dana Point Councilmember Michael Villar noted that the City Council is unique in that three of its members are retired Marines: Mayor Pro Tem Jamey Federico, Councilmember John Gabbard and himself.
“When you spend 20 years in the Marine Corps, you certainly, unfortunately, know your share of close friends that lost their lives serving, and I’m no different,” Villar said. “As I sit here, you think about those who gave the ultimate sacrifice; it really makes you appreciate the freedoms that we have and what we have here in Dana Point.”
Villar noted that the Veterans Memorial is a special place for him and that the dedication was especially touching as a day to “think about my friends that have lost their lives. I’ll be thinking of them and remembering them today.”
VFW 9934 Post Commander Rick Jauregui reminded attendees of the importance of listening to older veterans’ stories, noting that the younger generations should not “let your older veterans pass, not knowing their stories, what they were involved in.”
“Some things we don’t want to talk about–that’s true; some things we’d rather not talk about, some things you’d rather forget–that’s true,” Jauregui said. “But there’s certain things about history that nobody else knows, that only you know.”
Sgt. Daniel Jennings, California District 2 VFW commander, shared the history of the title of Gold Star Families from World War I.
“When we go off to war, families display the Blue Star banners,” Jennings said. “Usually, a number of stars that the families show on those banners for how many servicemembers they have forward-deployed in those areas of conflict.”
“When we lose one of those family members, that’s when those gold stars are then placed on top of those blue stars, showing that significance of that loss of that servicemember,” Jennings continued.
Jennings added that he hopes families can find peace, using the dedicated benches, which face the Veterans Memorial, as a space to remember fallen loved ones.