America recognizes troops’ time in service each November on Veterans Day, but now a bipartisan group of senators wants to set aside a day for Gold Star families each September to better honor their sacrifices.
On Tuesday, the lawmakers introduced the new Gold Star Families Day Act, which would make the last Monday in September — just about six weeks before Veterans Day — a federal holiday to recognize families who have lost a loved one while serving in the military.
“For the countless American families spanning generations who have given and sacrificed so much to defend our nation and protect our freedoms and way of life, our country is eternally grateful,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa and an Army National Guard veteran.
Ernst and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are leading the effort, which would establish a 12th federal holiday in honor of the families. Veterans Day (Nov. 11) and Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) are among the 11 existing ones.
In a statement, Warren said the move is needed “to honor and respect the painful sacrifice that continually lives with the families of our fallen heroes.”
Advocates have estimated as many as 3 million Americans may be related to service members who gave their life in the line of duty.
Sheila Mitchell-Murphy — the mother of Army Spc. Etienne Murphy, who died in a vehicle rollover accident while serving in Syria — said in a statement of support for the legislation that the holiday would help educate many Americans unfamiliar with the term “Gold Star family” and unaware of the frequent danger of military service, even outside of wartime.
“Many have congratulated me on my Gold Star Family license plate, they think it’s a good thing,” she said. “A veteran thought it meant that I had more than one family member in the military.
“I believe that once Gold Star Families Day becomes a Federal holiday, people would start to take notice, inquire more about us, become enlightened.”
Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, said that the majority of service-connected deaths are non-combat related, but that distinction means little for the grief and loss that survivors experience.
“A service member’s death is honored and remembered based on their life and service, not based on the geography or circumstance of their death,” she said.
Before the new holiday can become law, the legislation must be approved by both the House and Senate. That could be a difficult task, given the long list of other priorities before both chambers and the shortened legislative schedule this year because of the November midterm elections.
The last successful proposal to create a new federal holiday concerned Juneteenth National Independence Day(June 19), which was approved last summer.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.