As I stood on the parade route in my hometown, I remember the scene clearly. I was pregnant with my second child, and wore a pink t-shirt with white letters that read “Proud Army Wife.” It was a Mother’s Day gift from my mom and barely stretched over my baby belly.

My dad was beside me, helping with my excited toddler, as we watched sparkling floats and high school bands move down the parade route. My husband wasn’t with us because as a new soldier, he was away training with the Army.

We took in the sights, sounds and atmosphere while under the cool shade of hundred-year-old oak trees with hanging Spanish moss. I was so proud to show my little son a slice of my childhood in Tallahassee, FL. We clapped, cheered, waved and tried our best to catch candy, toys and beads.

In A Moment, The Mood Changed

In what felt like slow motion, a float came into view. It looked like most of the others from the parade, but it had mostly women and children riding on top. I then looked at the banner on the side that read “Gold Star Families.”

Here I was, a brand-new Army wife, (as proudly announced by my shirt), yet I knew who these families were. They were the parents, wives, siblings and children of servicemembers who didn’t return home as they promised.

I felt my eyes fill with tears and a lump develop in my throat. My heart ached for each and every one of those Americans riding on that float. That float is one that none of us want to qualify for, yet here they were, bravely, boldly smiling and waving, and representing the memories of their loved ones, while reminding us all that freedom isn’t free.

I joined the other parade spectators in clapping and waving to these amazing families on the float. I tried to smile as tears streamed down my cheeks, and then someway, somehow, I was spotted. Perhaps it was that bright pink “Proud Army Wife” shirt, but I remember that a few of the women on the float spotted me, pointed to me, smiled and waved.

I can’t explain the immense amount of emotion I felt in that moment. I wanted to run up to their float and give them all hugs, hear about their lost spouses, children, siblings, fathers and mothers. In this moment, I knew that this was very real — although there were just a handful of brave souls on this float, they were not alone. For each and every American who dies while serving our country, there are family and friends affected back home. Their brave sacrifice affects the lives of so many others.

Befriending a Gold Star Wife

I have recently had the opportunity to meet a Gold Star Wife for the first time. Her name is Barb Allen, she is a mother of four boys, whose husband and father of her children, Lt. Louis Allen, was killed in Iraq in 2005.

When Barb and I spoke via video chat for the first time, do you know what she said to me? She thanked me for being willing to talk to her because most military spouses tend to run the other way.

“I have to say you are probably the first military spouse, especially with a husband deployed, who has not just fled from me, because I represent your worst nightmare. A lot of women sort of go ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t want to look.’”

When she said those words to me, it tore me up. Here was another woman, a military spouse and mother, who didn’t receive the support she could and should have from our military community.

Supporting Families Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice

No one should run from her. We should run to her. Run to her children. Provide love, support, help, hugs, a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Let them know that as they continue without Lt. Allen by their side throughout the coming years, they are not alone.

Barb and I have not yet met in person, but when we do, I plan on giving her a hug, at the very least. She is one of the many who view today, Memorial Day, as not just another day off from school or work. It’s not just another reason to vacation or barbecue, but instead, a day to reflect and remember a loved one who died serving our country.

Please remember today, not only those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, but also those who loved them and were left behind to grieve, remember, pick up the pieces and move forward bravely.

They are all a part of our American family and deserve remembrance, respect, honor, support and love.

To learn more about Barb Allen, please visit To learn more about Gold Star Survivors, please visit




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A self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” former Army wife Jackie Toops enjoys exploring the various facets of her personality by chronicling military life, world travels, family, her love of the arts and more. Her academic background is in the fields of Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and she has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. Jackie’s articles have been featured on Army Wife 101, Wall Street International Magazine, SoFluential, HomeAway, Military Biz Connection and FamiliesGo. While stationed in Germany, she regularly discussed her articles on-air with the Armed Forces Network in Wiesbaden. A mother of two, Jackie enjoys coffee, freelance writing, languages and discovering new ways to express herself. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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