Remembering our locals who served

dan08onmidwaycropped2_thumb_f0291705a7e4d3c61deb5625358f72f6Editor’s note: This is an article I wrote in 2008 when I was Editor of The Union. Our son went to kindergarten with this Vet’s niece. Since then, we have become friends with Daniel Durgin’s sister, Brynda, and his mom, Elsie. Daniel’s mom posted the article I had written on her Facebook page this week, with a note of thanks. It is an upside to small-town life.

Tomorrow, in honor of Mother’s Day, we will dedicate both Opinion pages and one extra page to Blue Star Mothers and their sons and daughters who serve or have served in the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. You will read profiles of them, written by their Moms, along with their photos.

All too often we think about war in broad political terms, not deeply personal ones. We have been planning this project since I joined a monthly breakfast meeting of the group at Paulette’s Kitchen earlier this year. I was struck with their spirit: a super support network of “everyone who is the same yet so very different.” I wish we had a lot more groups like this.

On Thursday, the Blue Star Moms were present at the memorial of Daniel Durgin to present the family with a gold-star banner, honoring those who have lost a son or daughter in war or otherwise while serving in the Armed Forces.

It marked the first time that the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Blue Star Mothers has handed out a gold star. About a half-dozen Blue Star Moms were present, including Sue Horne, who is a founding member.

“We offer our deepest sympathy on the loss of your beloved son, Daniel,” Lynnette Ellison, president of the group, said at the memorial. “As parents of other young men and women who served this country with Daniel, we extend our support and strength in the hope that we may help you shoulder your burden.

“Enclosed is the Gold Star banner, this country’s only symbol of a family’s greatest sacrifice. May you proudly display it in your window, a constant reminder to your community that from your home came one of America’s finest.”

My wife and I attended Daniel’s memorial, because his niece is one of my son’s best friends in kindergarten. She was going to be the flower girl at Daniel’s wedding later this month. We gave her a big hug at the cemetery and saved her a cupcake from later in the day, when she missed her teacher’s birthday and a teacher appreciation day celebration.

Children this age are often too young to grasp the full meaning of death. Like many of you, we’ve found some children books to help them along, such as “The Fall of Freddie and the Leaf.”

Leaves changing with the seasons are used to illustrate the difference between life and death. The book reads: “Everything dies. No matter how big or small, how weak or strong. We first do our job. We experience the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain. We learn to dance and to laugh. Then we die.”

In the end, a young child’s view of death is so literal. My son created a card on construction paper for Daniel’s niece, with all sorts of drawings. On it, my wife drew a picture of the two of them playing together in Pioneer Park, and I drew a picture of them sailing together at Lake Tahoe. My 6-year-old son simply wrote, in his most grown-up handwriting: “I’m sorry your uncle died in a car crash. I love you.”

About 400 people turned out for Daniel’s memorial at the beautifully remodeled Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building. An admiral spoke, and at the cemetery, we heard taps, a 21-gun salute and saw the “missing man” aerial flyby. Daniel’s mother was clearly touched. The words of the Blue Star Moms stood out as we looked over the oak trees at the Rough and Ready Cemetery: “Everyone is the same yet so very different.”

About jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.
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