Christopher Frison was just two months old when his father deployed to Afghanistan in January 2011.
1st Lt. Demetrius Frison was killed four months later, on May 10, 2011, when the his unit was attacked with an improvised explosive device.
“Chris doesn’t have his own solid memories, but there are memories that are tangible for him that he can see, he can watch, he can hear,” said Mikki Frison. She and her husband filmed many videos of each other, and before he left, Demetrius Frison captured a day on video, including taping himself reading books to Christopher. He read “The Night Before Christmas” and six other books to his baby boy, all videotaped.
Christopher, now 10, asks for “The Night Before Christmas” book every Christmas, Frison said. “He wants to watch the video, but it’s hard,” she said. He watches the video of his dad reading the book, and follows along with his book.
“I keep Demetrius very alive for him.,” she said. “I make sure he has his dad. His dad was too wonderful for him not to have any part of him. I’d be doing a disservice to my husband if I didn’t.”
Christopher keeps his dad’s memory alive in many ways. “He holds on to his dad,” she said. That includes writing “Dad” on the back of every pair of soccer cleats he’s ever owned, she said, “to keep his dad with him when he plays. I don’t think anyone ever sees it. … More importantly, he knows it’s there,” she said.
For most Gold Star families like the Frisons, those memories — and making sure their loved ones are not forgotten — are an essential part of their lives.
The Frisons are among 56 families being highlighted by First Lady Jill Biden as part of Gold Star Families Remembrance Week, Sept. 20–26. Each day on the First Lady’s social media, a number of families are featured, and the Frisons are expected to appear on Thursday representing Pennsylvania.
The families, one from each state and territory, represent every branch of service; every relationship — such as spouses, children, parents, siblings and others; and every circumstance of death. “They are as diverse as the United States,” said Bonnie Carroll, founder and president of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. The 56 families are all featured in a book compiled by TAPS.
Each of those 56 families is holding an American flag that was displayed on the national mall during the inauguration. White House officials asked TAPS to accept a gift of some of the flags that were displayed, Carroll said. “We were so honored to be a part of this, and to accept something that’s so much a part of history. For our families and TAPS, we have a very special connection to the American flag. It was the flag that draped our loved one’s casket, it is the flag that was folded and which we received in honor of their service to this country. And that’s regardless of how or where our loved one died. They were honored by this country for their service, for their selfless service.”
When TAPS received the flags, she said, “we wanted to do something really special, and acknowledge that the sacrifices made by our military are in every community in this country, and in the far reaches of the states and the territories of America.”
In sending the flags to the families, Carroll said, “We just simply said to take the flag and take a photograph of a location that has special meaning. Some did their photo at the spot where they met their loved one, or where they were proposed to, or a place that was very personal. For Mikki Frison, that meant taking Christopher to the cemetery where his father is buried and photographing him with the flag.
“The photos we received were absolutely so moving, and families put so much love and care into them. We wanted to create this album that paints a visual, artistic expression of the service and sacrifice of our nation, to symbolically show it’s every state, every territory, every circumstance and relationship. We’re all united under one flag, with one heart of love and pride.”
TAPS presented copies of the albums to President Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, and the Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough on Memorial Day.
This week, those photos are being featured on the First Lady’s social media. Through the Joining Forces initiative, the First Lady has focused on issues important to military families.
Gold Star Families Remembrance Week was first observed in 2018.
“We have Memorial Day, which focuses on the sacrifices of those who died serving their country. This focuses on the sacrifices of military families who have lost a loved one,” Carroll said. “At TAPS, we think it’s important to love and honor all those the service member left behind.”
Mikki Frison said it has been an honor for her, Christopher and Demetrius to be featured in the book, and in the First Lady’s highlights.
“I love being able to share Demetrius and share our story,” she said. “For as many times as I can say his name and say our story, I feel like I’m also keeping him alive and keeping his sacrifice acknowledged.”
The flag is special to her, and she appreciates that the Biden administration thought of Gold Star families in providing the gifts and in highlighting the families this week.
TAPS has been important to her and Christopher far beyond this album, she said. Christopher has participated in the Good Grief camp for kids for years, forming bonds with other children who have suffered losses.
“It doesn’t matter their dads died in different ways,” she said. “They just all lost their dad … the fact that my kid has all these bonds with these kids. … I’m grateful for that.
“I appreciate TAPS through all of this. Just being there and loving us, and facilitating the love. … I don’t know where I’d be in some of this without TAPS. They can divert the pain and cause smiles.”
Gold Star families want their loved ones to be remembered every day of the year, but having a week to acknowledge families is important to families as well as to the general public, Frison said.
“Some people don’t even know what a Gold Star family is,” she said.
She recalls being astonished when an Army chaplain once asked her what a Gold Star family meant.
“We didn’t serve, we didn’t wear the uniform, but we did give up so much,” Frison said. “It’s very special and very important that’s it’s acknowledged, so that other people can start to understand the hero existed, and lived, and was loved by family who is now without their hero. … Just to know we’re thought of and remembered.”
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.