Terri and Rich Clifton, of Milford, were honored as the first family to place a brick at the brand new Gold Star Family Memorial unveiled Monday at the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park in honor of Veterans Day Monday.
Vietnam Veterans of America, Kent County Chapter 850 officials unveiled and dedicated their new memorial to Delaware's Gold Star Mothers and Families of all generations Monday afternoon. Veterans Day was on Sunday, Nov. 11, but the Vietnam veterans officially observed the holiday on Monday similar to several other organizations.
Members of Gold Star Families have lost a family member who served in the U.S. military. Terri and Rich Clifton's son, Lance Cpl. Chad Clifton, was killed during the Iraq War in 2005; he fell in Ramadi during a tour of duty for the U.S. Marines at the age of 19.
Since that time, the Cliftons had created the Chad Clifton Foundation to remember the fallen and the wounded U.S. troops.
"Grief is not a linear process," Terri Clifton said, agreeing with earlier remarks made at the ceremony. "You never know what the triggers are. You get used to the birthdays and holidays. But soldiers are individuals; we remember them first and foremost as our children and our fathers. So, maybe it's the smell of chocolate chip cookies that sets us off. There are no easy days.
"It can be very difficult," she added. "It's almost impossible to go out and face situations like this. But if we don't raise awareness no one else will. It's our way of serving."
Among the sizeable crowd of about 600 people were American Legion Post No. 10 member Kathy Mosher, a Gold Star wife and sister, and her daughter, Jennifer Narayan, both of Newark. Mosher and Narayan became emotional and embraced toward the end of the ceremony, when the Gold Star Family Memorial was unveiled.
Mosher's brother and her husband both died while serving for the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
"I think that Gold Star family members are often forgotten," Mosher said. "There was none of this back then; you didn't talk about it. It's so refreshing to see the outpouring of recognition."
Narayan said the memorial was an awesome place to come and remember lost loved ones.
"This is a great way to heal," she said. "There's a sense of sadness but also a sense of happiness to be around sisters and brothers that also feel the same."
In addition to the Gold Star Mothers and Families recognition, Delaware Veterans Coalition President Dave Skocik and VVA State Council President Paul Davis repeated the refrain that no one would ever forget a generation of veterans the way Vietnam veterans were forgotten upon their return home. State officials and guest speaker Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, adjutant general of the U.S. Army's Delaware National Guard, echoed those sentiments.
In closing remarks, VVA Kent County Chapter 850 President Joe Startt Jr. reminisced about how his U.S. Army squadron went on an ambush of a village one night in Vietnam. Out of 24 soldiers, only nine return and the survivors did not include his good friend, Wayne, whose last name he could not recall. He wanted to bring his body back to the states, but someone else was given that honor.
Skocik said he had often thought of Wayne in the 40 years since he was lucky enough to return from Vietnam, with no way of reaching out to his family without a last name.
"This Gold Star Mothers Memorial means a lot to me because, hopefully, I can have some closure on my friend, Wayne," he said. "I've been thinking about him for forty years and this really means something to me. God bless Gold Star Mothers. I'm so honored we can have a memorial here for you."
To conclude the day's ceremonies, Lake Forest Middle School eighth-grader Brooke Tucker played "Taps" and VVA Kent County Chapter 850 bagpiper Bill Frantz played "Amazing Grace" under the huge American flag hoisted by two ladders from the Dover and Frederica fire companies, respectively.