A Gold Star Mother's Day Celebration at the Capitol on Sunday honored mothers and families of those who lost children in the line of military duty.
The event also kicked off a campaign to erect a $125,000 Gold Star Families Memorial Monument near the entrance of the Bicentennial Bridge and near other war monuments at the Capitol.
Don Hentges, president of the Jefferson City Veterans Council, said although he's not a Gold Star Family member, he feels close to those who have lost loved ones while in service to our country.
He said a good friend of his, Willie McVea, died in his arms in Vietnam in 1968.
"Willie and I became very close friends over there. I made Willie and myself a promise that day. I promised I would make sure he was never forgotten."
He himself was seriously wounded shortly after McVea was killed.
Hentges was finally able to connect with McVea's widow in 2016. They've since met in person and visited McVea's grave.
"A lot of tears were shed that weekend, and a lot of questions answered," he said.
He said the Army had only told McVea's wife that he was killed in an explosion but gave no other details.
"We not only owe those who gave their life a debt we can never repay, but we also owe their families," he said.
The best way to honor them, he said, is to live our lives exercising the freedom they died for — be good citizens and vote for candidates who value our freedom, he said.
One Gold Star Family that attended the event was Larry and Edie Page, of Kirksville. Their son, Rex, died June 28, 2006, while serving in Iraq.
Larry Page said the ceremony was wonderful, adding: "I think people need to understand what Gold Star Families go through and the price that was paid for our freedom."
They said Sandy Deraps came to their son's funeral despite having lost her own son, Lance Cpl. Leon Deraps, USMC, just months earlier.
Jeremy Amick wrote a poem for the event. Amick is a volunteer public affairs officer with Silver Star Families of America, a nonprofit group that honors sacrifices through wounds and illness soldiers incurred during combat by honoring them with the Silver Star Banner.
The poem ended with the stanzas: "We pause to collect the hopes of the nation and recall those who have no more tomorrows. Never to forget the selfless service of our military, and families who now live in sorrow. We can honor their memory and sacrifices by supporting those left to cope with this grief. They share in an unsolicited fellowship of loss our country's Gold Star Families."
Sharon Naught, a member of the committee that is planning and raising funds for the monument, said 66 Gold Star Families monuments have been established in 45 states, plus Guam.
The monument is uniform in design, with four panels and a cutout of a saluting soldier throughout two of the tallest panels.
"I hope that you would give to this worthy cause," Naught said. "We hope to have it completed before the bicentennial next August. We look forward to this monument, and I think it will be a wonderful place that Gold Star Families can go and remember their loved one."
To donate to the cause, visit hwwmohf.org and specify the Jefferson City monument, or mail or drop off a donation to Legends Bank, c/o Rosie Verslues, 130 E. McCarty St., Jefferson City, MO, 65101. Checks should be made payable to "MMGSFMM."
All donations are tax-deductible.