On Oct. 4, it will be 12 years since Abingdon resident Marie Moudry’s only son was killed.
Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Moudry was 31 years old and planning to be married in that spring.
He’d been in the Army 12 ½ years when he was killed in Taji, Iraq.
The sacrifices of Moudry’s mother along with other Maryland Gold Star Mothers — mothers who have lost children during combat — were honored Sunday at a Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day brunch at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Gold Star Mother’s Day is Sept. 30.
It was the largest gathering ever of Gold Star Mothers at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where a Living Legacy Forest is being created to honor the members of those fallen family members, Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor said.
“There is no real way for us to do justice to the enormity of sacrifice of Gold Star families,” Taylor said. “But I hope today’s events and the memorial can provide you some small measure of comfort knowing that we have and will continue to stand with you as you navigate the twists and turns of life, and that our memorial will always be a place where memories and heroism of your loved ones will live forever.”
Former Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden didn’t get a call in the middle of the night that her son or daughter had died in combat, but she understands the grief of losing a child, she said. She can see it in the sadness in someone’s eyes, the curve of their shoulders.
“Like a secret handshake, I can spot them,” Biden, wife of former Vice President Joe Biden and guest speaker at Sunday’s brunch, told the crowd that included 38 Gold Star Mothers. “I know the injustice of outliving a child, the pain of a future stolen away, of mourning forever a voice you’ll never hear.”
Biden’s son, Beau Biden, died in 2015 at age 46 from brain cancer.
“I know that wound will never heal,” Biden said.
For 17 years, she said, the nation’s security has fallen on the broad shoulders of the military community, an elite group that only 1 percent of the nation answers the call for duty. They do it repeatedly and through multiple deployments.
“Each time they risk it all so that we can be safe. Each time their spouses, parents, children serve in their own way, praying for a safe return,” she said.
Sunday’s ceremony was a day to honor the lives of the fallen heroes.
“You have not sacrificed alone. And we owe each and every one of you a debt that can never be repaid,” she said.
While the nation will move on, battles will be forgotten and the sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan will become memories, family members will never forget what they had and what they lost.
“The fallen we remember here today will continue to be loved and missed,” Biden said. “Our grieving families served in their own ways and time doesn’t quite erase the suffering. That is why we must continue to wrap our arms around them, we must continue to lift them up and help carry their burden. That’s a promise Joe and I make to all of you.”
After the Obama-Biden administration ended, Biden said she knew she needed to continue to help military families after working with them for a decade.
Their “courage, strength and resilience” helped Biden through her brightest and darkest hours, she said, and together she and her husband created the Biden Foundation, which serves the military community.
“Serving this community, all of you, is a sacred obligation,” she said. “Joe and I are grateful for your families and we appreciate your sacrifice. We will grieve with you and keep you in our prayers.”
Biden also challenged everyone to find their skills and their talents, and find a way to give back to military families.
Her son’s legacy lives on in his children, whom she said continue to find joy in their lives in each other and in the memories of their dad, and they remind her to keep searching for the good.
“That is Beau’s legacy. He lives through them, through their kindness, joy and love,” Biden said. “Your fallen hero lives on as well. Their legacy is your love, your memories, the good you do to honor them.”
But it doesn’t stop there, she said.
“Their legacy lives on in all of us, in the freedom we have, in the strength of our nation and in the promise of America we strive to achieve,” Biden said. “Thank you for your service, thank you for your sacrifice and thank you for trying to live up to the legacy they left behind.”
Honoring by serving
The memories also will continue at the Living Legacy Forest, a living monument at APG.
In the middle of a grassy field, the monument is a “hallowed, sacred space” to honor fallen soldiers, Taylor said.
Sunday’s brunch was supposed to begin with an unveiling of a large gold star embedded in the center of a plaza, but the event was forced inside because of rain.
The forest will serve as a permanent recognition of the Army’s support for the spouses and family members of fallen service members and civilians as well as those who have fallen.
Trees with permanent markers have been and will continue to be planted around the memorial and a bronze sculpture on top of a large base will be unveiled in April, on Military Spouses Day.
Service members show their love for their fellow Americans every time they re-enlist, when they receive a commission or get promoted, Taylor said.
We swear, an oath, to support and defend the Constitution and its core idea that we are all created equal and are deserving of a government of, by and for the people,” Taylor said.
Service men and women stand and fight because they can’t leave their brothers and sisters.
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“The memorial is a reiteration of that commitment that transcends any sitting government or national issue of the day, because it’s bigger than any one of us,” Taylor said.
The Maryland Gold Star Mothers group was created to “honor our children’s memories by serving others and healing together,” according to its website, http://marylandgoldstarmoms.com.
For Moudry it was a source of comfort.
“It was nice to get together with other people who have similar things going in,” Moudry said. “We can talk about it and they understand what you’re going through.”
Linda Dolan, of Abingdon, brought her adult sons to Sunday’s ceremony.
Her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Dolan, died when he was just 23. He had left for Vietnam when his younger son was only two weeks old.
“It’s a loss, they had to group up without a father,” Dolan said. “This brings them a little closer to getting to know their dad.”