November 22, 2016

Voices of Gold Star Families to be included in Veterans History Project | Preston County Journal

It is important for future generations to learn and understand the true hardships of war and military service. The Veterans History Project collects and preserves the personal accounts of American war veterans for this exact purpose. West Virginia has nearly 700 stories included in the Veterans History Project, including the account of Medal of Honor Recipient Woody Williams, who is not only a war hero but a lifelong advocate for Veterans and Gold Star families.

What has not been included in the Veterans History Project, until now, are the voices of the Gold Star Families — whose children and loved ones died while serving in the military.

This week, I took great pride in joining my colleagues in voting for the Gold Star Families Voices Act. This legislation will allow Gold Star Families to add their collection of video and audio recordings of biographical histories of their loved ones who have made the ultimate sacrifice to the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center. This commonsense legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 97-0 and is on its way to the President’s desk and will soon become law.

These brave families will now be able to tell the personal stories of their loved ones, with the detail and emotion that only spouses, parents, children, siblings and dear loved ones can provide.

All Fallen heroes have their own stories and it is vital that we preserve and highlight these. Before these brave men and women gave their all in defense of the nation, they had their hopes and dreams ahead of them. But because they made the ultimate sacrifice, they never made it home to realize their futures or reunite their families.

By allowing Gold Star Families to add their service members’ story to this powerful collection, we are giving a voice so that fellow Americans know the price that a family pays in the cause of freedom.

The process is also very important to the families themselves. West Virginians Shirley and Stan White, have suffered the heartbreak that most of us can never imagine. Their two children, Staff Sergeant Robert White, U.S. Army and Corporal Andrew White, U.S. Marines, both served and died for our country. Shirley and Stan said that “Anytime we can speak about our children who have served and died, it helps to keep their memories alive. As long as their story is out there and their name is in print, they are still with us and that’s what’s important to us.”

Better preserving the memories of our Fallen heroes is also incredibly important for future generations.

As our children learn these stories, they will realize the sacrifice and patriotism that make up the fabric of our nation. As our future leaders and policy makers hear these stories, they will better understand the gravity and human costs of war.

West Virginia is one of the most patriotic states in the country; we have more Veterans per capita than nearly every other state, and we have the most names per capita on the hallowed Vietnam Wall. Our Veterans and our Gold Star Families remain one of my top priorities and are a cause that I will never stop fighting for. I know that many people are frustrated with Washington and are cynical about progress being made. But this week, we showed that we can still come together at a time of division to enact meaningful legislation that can improve the lives and memories of our Gold Star Families and Fallen veterans. This is something to be proud of, and I encourage all West Virginians to remain faithful in our process.

It is our solemn duty as Americans to never forget our Fallen service members. The Gold Star Families Voices Act enriches the great work that the Veterans History Project already does, and I am proud these stories and voices will now be included. May God bless our Fallen heroes, may God continue to shine on the beautiful mountains and valleys of West Virginia, and may God forever bless our United States of America.