MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
A father was too old to join his boys – he didn’t need anyone to tell him that. He couldn’t bring them back, though many shared in the same desire. He hoped America wouldn’t join in the war that engulfed the world, but it had, bringing along with it hundreds of thousands of others, including his two sons. He couldn’t go, they couldn’t stay, but he wanted to do something more than write letters, letters he didn’t even know were received. He wanted to do more to recognize their struggle. He looked toward his window and saw his wife’s sewing materials on the table beside it, strewn with blue and white material.
As the story goes, a father with two sons stationed in France during World War I wanted to somehow recognize their efforts overseas. He formulated the idea to place a rectangular flag in his window decorated in the colors of the American flag – a white background with red trimming and two blue stars in the center, one for each son. The symbol eventually caught on with families placing a similar flag in their windows marking how many children they had in the Department of Defense.
However, what would tell of a son or daughter who had fallen far, far away from home?
“They would then sew a gold star over the place of the blue one,” said Deb Tanish, a Marine Corps wife and mother of a fallen soldier. “In 2004, I had to do the same thing.”
From an early age, Patrick Tanish knew he wanted to be a warrior for the country, and found his calling in the U.S. Army. Working his way to become a cavalry scout, Sgt. Tanish deployed to Iraq in April of 2003 with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, later renamed to the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.
“As a scout, his job with his other soldiers was to bring out the enemy for the rest of his unit,” said Tanish. “A lot of his men were scared and reluctant to put themselves in harm’s way, but Pat said, ‘I know you’re scared, but there are others who are looking up to us to do our job, a whole country that depends on us, and that’s why we’re here.’”
Deb read this recollection in a letter one of Patrick’s fellow soldiers sent her following the events of February 2004, where Patrick was killed by a roadside improvised explosive device while on a mounted patrol outside of Baghdad. This frequently-used, cowardly attack that has been plaguing the safety of service members in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 had claimed yet another life.
“After we got that knock on the door, I just wanted to sit and cry forever,” said Tanish. “But that’s not what Pat would have expected of me. No matter how much it hurts and makes me want to cry, it’s not as important as supporting the others going through the same thing as me.”
Colleen Greene had a rocky history since the birth of her son. Enduring a divorce and raising her child by herself, there’s little that can impose a mark upon her steel resolve – other than her son becoming a Marine Corps infantryman during a time of war.
“He came home from school one day and said, ‘Hey mom, just to let you know, I’m joining the Marine Corps,’” said Greene. “I told him that if he was serious, join as a motor transport mechanic or something like that so he could fix the trucks and then relax. So after he comes back from his recruiter, I asked if that’s what he chose. He said ‘Nope, I’m going to be an infantryman!’”
Prior to her son’s first combat deployment, Greene was absolutely oblivious to the ins and outs of the Marine Corps or what the significance of blue and gold stars were. However, during that deployment, she met up with Tanish who took her into her world and provided her with the best support system a single mother with a deployed infantry son could want.
“It’s been almost eight years since Pat died, and more and more parents are becoming gold star families,” said Tanish. “Instead of crying in my beer for the past eight years, I made it my mission to educate all the blue and gold star families as well as the public on what these star symbols stand for and that those who hold them are not alone.”
From public speaking events to television interviews, the Tanishes have made it their duty to spread the knowledge of the blue and gold star meanings and endorse that those with stars come together to help each other out. The impact of the blue and gold stars’ importance in this country has gotten so as to create a multitude of support organizations where the blue star parents support new gold star parents while gold star parents introduce new blue star parents to the ways of the military and deployments.
“I know what they’re up against overseas, and we at home keep these strong support systems in an effort to be there for one another,” said Greene. “It is extremely hard going about your life and constantly worrying what could be happening to him, especially when there’s no one there to open up to about it.”
On the day of her son’s second deployment with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division to Afghanistan, Greene sat next to Tanish, who made the drive up from Florida to be there to support her. Both carried the stars of their family situation in the military, one blue, another gold, yet despite the vast difference between stories of their sons, both are proud military parents who work to spread the awareness of the support system shared by all military parents.
“We’ve all experienced the same thing, so there’s a true heart-to-heart connection that can happen,” said Greene. “That alone can be very helpful to a mother with a deployed child. In their unit they are a family themselves, and when they deploy their families, scattered across the country, can stay connected and support each other.”
Tanish and Greene are but two of a large network of families across this nation, sharing the commonality of having children serving in the armed forces. The support one family can give to another is astronomical, and when that blue star becomes gold, no one else can understand but someone who has been there themselves.