In an instant, 200 Monarch butterflies drifted across Burba Lake, released Saturday morning by teary-eyed families in memory of their loved one.
Despite the wave of colorful orange and black wings, an overcast sky set the tone for the Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day remembrance ceremony.
Over 150 community members gathered at Burba Lake to honor survivors and remember fallen service members.
This was the second year that Army Survivor Outreach Services at Fort Meade organized the ceremony.
SOS offers survivors access to support, information and services. The organization also provides support coordinators, financial counselors and Gold Star advocates to reassure survivors that they remain valued members of the Army family, according to the SOS website.
This year’s remembrance ceremony drew a much larger crowd, which included Fort Meade Scout troops.
“[The significance of this event is] to make sure survivors have a tie-in to remembering and honoring their family member,” said Voncile Farmer, the SOS coordinator. “It’s very important to keep that memory alive. Even if someone dies … you have them in your heart and memory.”
The American Gold Star Mothers organization was founded before the end of World War II for mothers whose children died during their military service.
The last Sunday in September is observed throughout the country as Gold Star Mothers Day. On Sept. 23, President Barack Obama signed a presidential proclamation in honor of the annual observance.
Honoring Fallen Heroes
On Saturday, survivors lined up in front of the crowd to speak about their fallen Soldier.
Gold Star Mother Tracy Savoy spoke about her son Pfc. Thomas Simms, who died in July.
“I cannot imagine what it will be like in five years or 10 years for me,” Savoy said through tears. “You don’t know what it means to me to hear everyone’s stories. I’m just very thankful for this service.”
Kelly Swanson, the Gold Star Mother of Staff Sgt. Christopher Swanson who died 10 years ago, told the audience about her son’s plan to take her sky diving.
While she initially didn’t understand why anyone would want to jump out of a “perfectly good airplane,” three years ago Swanson took the plunge with an organization called Leap of Faith.
“I know [my son] was with me and he was proud of me,” she said.
The Swanson family just observed its “10-year angel-versary,” Swanson said.
“It’s hard every day, but we thank you for your prayers and your support, especially [Survivor] Outreach Services,” Swanson said.
Among those in attendance was Janice Chance¸ the president and chaplain for the American Gold Star Mothers Inc., Maryland Chapter. She works with SOS coordinators in welcoming mothers new to the area and to the program.
Chance is the Gold Star Mother of Marine Capt. Jesse Melton III, who was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 9, 2008. Chance has a saying about how she stayed positive after losing her son.
“Yes, I cry, but I do not drown in my tears and I refuse to be paralyzed by my pain,” she said to the group. “I’m going to carry on the legacy of [my son’s] service. Every day we have to make a decision: Do we become bitter or do we become better? I have chosen to become better.”
Chance thinks of the Gold Star Mothers as her extended family and said their mission is to keep the memory and legacy of their children alive by serving veterans, active-duty service members and their families, and working within their communities.
After the Gold Star Mothers and Wives spoke, Lisa Rickard, wife of Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard, addressed the group.
“I would ask you to consider that although a butterfly is fragile and vulnerable, it is also extremely resilient,” Rickard said. “Just like the butterflies, there are many days you feel fragile and vulnerable. But remember, you are actually extremely resilient.”
After the Gold Star Mothers and Families received their butterfly, they made their way to the edge of Burba Lake. Chance read a poem before the group released the butterflies, all 200 of them drifting across the lake.
Gold Star Mother Mary Wiley, who lives in Odenton, said that the weekend is special to her for two reasons.
“My youngest son Spc. Ross E. Vogel III died in Iraq on Sept. 29, 2009,” Wiley said. “This is Gold Star Mothers weekend, and it’s always going to be close to the anniversary of his death. So that’s special for me.”
When Wiley’s oldest son was stationed at Fort Meade in 2013, she came to help watch her grandchildren. One of the first things she did when she arrived on post was to reach out to Fort Meade’s SOS. There, she met Farmer.
“It was a very difficult time for me, and she helped me get through it,” Wiley said. “The Fort Meade community has just been awesome.
“I’m just really excited to be here and to be a part of this. Fort Meade has been like a big hug.”
For Wiley, who attended last year’s butterfly release as well, the symbolism of the butterfly hit home.
“Butterflies signify that life continues, although there’s a death,” she said. “So there’s the caterpillar and its process, but then there’s a beautiful butterfly. It signifies new life and it can all happen, life after a tragic death.
“You just have to keep pushing forward to get through the darkness. But the whole process, of the caterpillar, the cocoon and then the butterfly — that’s kind of how I feel, like I’ve gone through that metamorphose of change with the help of the people here.”