Gold Star Families Never Forget

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This last snapshot we took with our dad is blurry.

The memories of him, of the kind man he was, of what he stood for, of his integrity, of his character, of the father he was to us, the ways in which he loved us, they have not faded these fifty years later.

Those memories are sharp as ever.

Had he lived he would have returned home to us this week. “The week of your birthday,” he assured my nine-almost-ten-year-old self, although, it’s unlikely he could have known that for sure. Undoubtedly, just the promise a father makes to a daughter when the dates are near enough to not be a fib.

There was so much we never got to do together. Little things, like drink a cup of coffee and talk baseball or theology, or sit in church together. I don’t have any memories of ever doing that. I know we must have, but I can’t recall it. We never went on a hike together like my girls do with their dad. He never taught me to shoot a gun or a basketball. This man who ran moonshine in his youth never even bought me a drink. He never told me what he thought of Jesus, or whether he liked Elvis or not.

There were so many things we never discussed. What did he think of that damn war anyway? Or the men like Trump who chicken-shitted their way out of it?

I don’t know what my father would think of me being a writer, or if, like many in the family, he wouldn’t even read the books I write. Maybe he would be like Mama and think I should write more like Nicholas Sparks because “Everyone loves Nicholas Sparks” and it bugged Mama to no end that I didn’t make it “big” like Sparks in this writing business.

I suspect if he’d come home like he was supposed to, I probably never would have been a writer at all.

Or maybe he and I would have written books together on the Best Places to Fish in the Southeast.

I turn 60 on Saturday.

He never even got the chance to turn 35. He died at the age Ashley and Shelby are right now.

And for what?

That was the question my girlfriend Cammie asked as we stood at the edge of a manioc field overlooking the Ia Drang Valley where our fathers died: What was this all for? 

It’s the question I find myself screaming, literally screaming, as I try to understand how a man who has never sacrificed anything, a man who has demeaned women and the disabled, Gold Star families like mine, Muslims and Mexicans, has just been elected to hold the highest office in this nation.

burn

Years ago, when my sister was pregnant with her first child, I sat at my sewing machine and sewed her five maternity dresses. I took great care to make those dresses extra lovely for my baby sister. I choose patterns and fabrics I knew she would love. I picked out buttons and lace special for her. I hate sewing with a passion but I wanted to do something that would let her know how much I loved her.

I did this even though I had a passel of toddling babies underfoot. I packed those dresses carefully away in a paper sack on put them on the dryer so that I wouldn’t forget them later that evening while we were packing up the car, headed to my sisters for Thanksgiving.

Only, I got in hurry and got that sack confused with another paper sack that I took to the burn barrel. It wasn’t until later when I went looking for the dresses to put in the car that I realized what I had done. I ran out to the burn barrel, there in the snow and pulled the charred remnants of those dresses. Then I sat there in that snow and wept bitterly.

All that work. All that love. All that sacrificing. Burned up.

That’s what it feels like now. My whole life burned up. All that love. All that sacrificing. All those talks Dad and I never got to have. All of it burned by a people unaware of what they were doing. Or if they were aware, not caring the least that Gold Star families like mine now have to make peace with a man set on destroying the democracy our loved ones died to protect.

I pray God removes Trump, somehow, and soon, for your sakes and mine, and that of the grandsons my dad never got to hold in his lap.

And for those of you who didn’t bother to vote, may the blood of fallen soldiers haunt your dreams and your every waking moment. May you come to know the torture of living in a land where such freedoms don’t exist.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag has been Folded (William Morrow).

 

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Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Gold Star Daughter. Trump will never be my president.

19 Comments

Rose blackwell

about 6 months ago

Dear Karin a beautiful article . I will miss you but you are so right about Facebook. I will follow you on your blog. I'm also hoping that something will happen . Trumps follower are the underbelly of America and now we know the real America . Love you !

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 months ago

Thank you, Rose. You can subscribe to the blog & I hope you do. You are so right. Trump is only part of the problem. A big part, but the other part is the racism, the xenophobia, the misogyny that led people to vote for him. And now the hate that educators and law enforcement are dealing with on a daily basis. Trump has made it okay to hate again. The world seems like a very dark place right now.

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Jane Bradley

about 6 months ago

As always a beautiful and brilliant piece. The sorrow and a passion takes me by the heart and hurts. Yes, these are dark dark times and I have no idea what lies ahead In this fragile time we have to pray constantly and hold our loved ones close and be bedthere for those we can help. I have subscribed to your blog. I'll be needing a place to go to to find heart and wisdom. Thank you for being who you are. You and your work are cherished by many.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 months ago

Thank you for these words, Jane. I will write more soon on that silent retreat. I do hope you'll find one close by to attend. I wonder why I didn't think to do it twenty years ago. And, yes, we have to find better ways to connect with each other than Social Media, which seemed to help build Trump's empire. I do feel like these are dark days ahead of us and at least for now, for me, Facebook is not a safe community. When I read the reports that it was women my age, whites, voting for Trump I can hardly breath. I want to tell everyone I didn't vote for this man and he will #NeverBeMyPresident. Never.

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Debbie Derrick

about 6 months ago

Thank you! I went to your blog and hopefully signed up. Hugs

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 months ago

Thanks for signing up. And you have all my other contact info. Hope you'll contribute your thoughts here as well.

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Phyllis Palmer

about 6 months ago

From a Gold Star niece, I thank you for this. Much love. ❤️

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 months ago

Thank you, Phyllis, for your sacrifice. Stay in touch.

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Ramona Jordan

about 6 months ago

I love you, Karen. I thank you for teaching me to be strong and vulnerable. Most of all, I thank you for the gift of "you". God's peace, friend.

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Pamela Feagle

about 6 months ago

Karen, I wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday. I know circumstances make it hard to be happy on your birthday, but I am grateful for your life and the parents who gave life to you. Blessings abound, even where we aren't looking. Take the day off and enjoy yourself. Know I love you always!! Pam Feagle

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 months ago

Yes, Pam, circumstances make this among the top five of worst birthdays ever. So glad the family were smart enough to celebrate it early. So glad I spent time in the Abbey. I'll write more on that in the coming days. But for now, and for the months in the foreseeable future, I am going to try and find grace to move forward. I see no hope for this nation, none at all. But Jesus never came to be a political leader, did he? He came to heal and right now I'm in need of healing, as many of us are, those of us who feel betrayed by our country, by a small portion of its citizenry. We have just elected a demagogue and given his all the power in the world to do as he wishes. We are Syria. I am broken but God is still good. God is good even in the midst of all the wrongs of man.

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Nancy Pate

about 6 months ago

Karen, this moves me as much as anything you've ever written. I understand your retreat from Facebook and will follow you here. The election has left me heartsick and angry. My nephew is on his third tour in Afghanistan. I keep him and all that serve in my prayers, and I honor the memory of our veterans. America is already great.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 months ago

Thank you, Nancy. This election has sickened millions. We need to figure out how to organize and fight back. I don't have any fight in me today. I may not have any in the months to come, but eventually, I'll rise up out of these mourning clothes and figure out a way to use my voice again. For now though, I need to be still and to think and to pray. I suspect that's what all of us need. But God has not changed and he did not show up to give us a political system. We have to move beyond being a unified country and beyond our patriotism and nationalism and figure out how to be human. God doesn't call us to be good Americans. He calls us to be kind to humanity. We've lost sight of how to do that. And now we've elected a man who doesn't even know how to think of others first, ever. I pray God stops this evil before it overcomes us. Right now, I feel overcome with evil. So everyday I am trying to do something good. Anything good. Even little things. That's all I know to do right now. America might be great but she's also fucked up.

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AFRoger

about 6 months ago

This veteran is sick to his stomach today that we have chosen Donald Trump to be our president. I am also mindful that I must be equally distraught over the work undone and the needs unmet, the errors of our citizenship and conduct as a nation that have created the conditions that made Mr. Trump's candidacy viable. We have much to repent of and be attentive to. Karen, as friend and brother in Christ I pray that you would revisit the final sentence of this post. We all have a share in where we are today, although the pain of our experience varies greatly. We must hold ourselves and Mr. Trump accountable. To Mr. Trump and our fellow citizens who did not vote I say, "I wish you well, not ill." We all find ourselves at the foot of the cross. "No merit of my own I claim, but wholly lean on Jesus' name." Amen.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 months ago

I have revisited my thoughts on those who did not vote. I stand by my thoughts. While it may appear ungracious or unkind to you, or others, I know of people who cast ballots from their deathbeds. So to not vote out of laziness or apathy or sulking or whatever excuse someone musters up is far more the unkind thing to have done. It is to say to men like my father - your life and your death do not matter to me. Your family's sacrifices are meaningless. We have put a demagogue in office and given him all the support he needs to turn America into Syria. Those who did not vote deserve to live in a land where they are denied that option.

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AFRoger

about 6 months ago

All the more reason to abolish forever the Electoral College system. Trump was right about one thing. The election was rigged--in his favor it turns out. Except perhaps for the state of Maine, every voter who did not vote with the majority in their state is effectively disenfranchised by the "winner take all" allocation of electoral votes. The chances of scrapping that unjust system are zero now that it has favored the GOP twice since 2000 and since the GOP will control all branches of government including the Supreme Court.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 months ago

Yes. Like I said, it is Syria. And when I hear Christians speak of how this is all God's will and God can use the most vile people, I want to vomit. This is the talk they said of Hitler in 1932 as well. And I keep hearing God reply: Don't blame me. You wanted this Demagogue.

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Dory Lohrey-Birch

about 6 months ago

Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers. The only thing we can do in the aftermath of this election is that as DAR daughters is to be hyper vigilant to protect our Constitution.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 months ago

Thank you, Dory. We certainly have our work cut out for us. I suspect Trump has never even read the Constitution and he clearly has no idea what it means given the amount of bigotry he has spewed and incited.

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