The Gold Star: An honor no one wants

  • Published
  • By Melissa Schmidt
  • Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Military & Family Readiness Center

“Of all of the important undertakings of a commander, taking care of the families of our fallen heroes – our Gold Star Family Members, is at the top” -- Retired Gen. David L. Goldfein, former Air Force Chief of Staff

The highest honor a military member can pay for the price of freedom is their life. The call is answered by less than 1% of the U.S. population; this privilege is reserved for the men and women who are ready to serve a purpose bigger than themselves.

With that great privilege, comes the unmeasurable sacrifice of their lives. How does a country recognize this heroism? 

President Woodrow Wilson acknowledged that the mothers of fallen service members needed to be recognized for their sacrifice. He authorized a suggestion made by the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defenses, that mothers who had lost a child who served in the war could wear a traditional black mourning armband with a gold gilt star in 1918.

This approval led to the tradition of a gold star covering the blue star on the Service flag to show that the service member had passed. It’s believed Wilson coined the term “Gold Star Mother,” according to

In 1928, Grace Darling, a Gold Star Mother, took this then-informal designation one step further and founded American Gold Star Mothers along with a group of 25 other grieving mothers, according to

The phrase “Gold Star Family,” dates back to World War I, when military families displayed service flags featuring a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the Armed Forces. The star’s color would be changed to gold if the family lost a loved one in the war, hence the term, “Gold Star Family.”

The U.S. Department of Defense also issues Gold Star lapel pins, which were established in 1947. These pins are given to immediate family members of a fallen service member of the military. They are worn by spouses, parents, and children of service members killed in the line of duty and contain a gold star on a purple circular background.

Since June 23, 1936, after the passage of a joint congressional resolution under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the nation has recognized the last Sunday of September as Gold Star Mother’s Day. Amended in 2011, President Barack Obama included the recognition of all Gold Star family members on this day.

JBSA-Lackland is home to many Gold Star Families where they are supported by the military community. I have had the personal pleasure of working with moms, dads, sisters and brothers of fallen Airmen.

There has been no greater reward in my career than being able to engage with a family and go on their journey with them. I know our great fallen members on such a level, that I feel the families’ heartache.

They have shown me pictures, videos, and memorabilia that captures their hero. I have cried with them, laughed with them, and I have hugged them – these families are what this country is about and I have never been more proud in my time working with the Military & Family Readiness Center as I do when I am with these families!

I wrote this article so that people know what a Gold Star mom, dad, sister, brother, son, or daughter represents. This title is held with much heartbreak and abundant honor.

When you see the license plate, the lapel pin, or their ID card, thank them for their sacrifice, for they have paid the ultimate debt. These families are what make the uniform proud.

“A club no one wants to join, but this is where we are, and we are as proud as we ever were.” -- Gold Star Families video