NEWPORT, Ky. –
Several hundred Gold Star Families were treated to fun, food and great views of the Ohio River as the Kentucky National Guard and Survivor Outreach Services hosted their annual Riverboat Ride on the Ohio with BB Riverboats June 12.
As the Belle of Cincinnati floated down the Ohio River, children were getting their faces painted, eating ice cream and getting to sit upfront with captain Allen Bernstein.
MORE PHOTOS: SOS Riverboat Cruise 2022 | Flickr
Bernstein and his daughter Terri own the riverboat company and are also a Gold Star Family. Terri lost her husband who was a Kentucky National Guardsman in 2007 while he was deployed to Afghanistan.
“It’s a great day that we look forward to every year", said Allen Bernstein. “Hosting this event helps us connect with and give back to the other Gold Star Families.”
The day gives the families a great space to talk about their loved ones who were taken too soon.
Lives like that of Private First Class Bruce Griffin. Bruce, 18, had only been in the Marines for a year when he volunteered to join his fellow Marines in Vietnam. After being in country about three days, he was killed in action, May 21, 1966, during his first mission. His sister Linda Griffin was only 14 at the time and she says it feels like it was just yesterday she last saw him as he was getting on the plane to Vietnam.
“He was my best friend when we were growing up,” said Linda Griffin, Bruce’s sister. “As his kid sister, he let me tag along and he was always there for me no matter what I wanted to discuss with him. He never thought anything was silly as a teenager girl. So when he went to Vietnam, we were devastated. He was home on Easter that year. He bought my Easter dress; and then he left for Vietnam. He tipped his hat as he got on the plane and my mother said to me, ‘Well, he won't be back, we’ve lost him, he is going to die in Vietnam’”.
“He wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and make a difference for our freedom.”
There were many other stories that had similar themes. Men and women who put their country first and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“(This event) is a nice way for me to communicate with my son and my daughter about who their uncle was and what he meant, not just to the family, but to the country,” said Tyler Hoffman, whose older brother Justin, 29, was killed in Iraq in 2005. “I think it is a really nice stepping off point for the kids and for me to let them know that their uncle was a warrior and a Soldier and a brother; and all these different things that he did, he did it for the family and for the country. Everything that he did was rooted out of love, not so much out of anything else. The primary thing that took him to Iraq was his love for his men, his love for me, our other brother and his country.”
For the organizers of the event, they want to continue creating opportunities like this to open up conversations so that each of the ones that didn’t make it home are remembered and honored and their families aren’t forgotten.
“It's great therapy for them,” said David Orange, one of the coordinators with Survivor Outreach Services. “This is our way to make sure that their Soldier's never forgotten. We look at it as they're part of our family and the thing that we need to do now and continue to do is have these types of events that bring these survivors in from all parts of the state and all parts of the country to be together and communicate to one another.”
Most of that communication stirs up many emotions but also builds a sense of belonging with those in attendance.
“I don't think words can even express what it means to me because I grieve every day for him, I miss him every day, and there's no time limit on grief,” said Griffin. “So the camaraderie of the others, the other Gold Star family members, whatever their caliber is, means the world to me to be able to share his (Bruce’s) story and his history and I'm very proud of my brother, and all the others that sacrificed the ultimate sacrifice.”
Linda is very active on assisting others through their grief as well. She is involved with many programs such as Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S.) and does work with the Woody Williams Foundation. She also has started a scholarship in Bruce’s memory which has raised over $55,000.
“In 2010, I started a scholarship and Bruce's memory for our local high school in Goshen, Ohio, she said, “We put in a monument as well in memory of Bruce and five of their friends and classmates that also died in Vietnam. It’s a way to take a positive from a negative because I don’t ever want Bruce or the others to be forgotten.”
She also attends Wreaths Across America every year that she can at Camp Nelson where Bruce and her parents are buried in Nicholasville, Ky.
According to Orange, Gold Star Families from Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois were represented at this year’s event.
SOS also hosts an event during the fall in Louisville at Churchill Downs where Gold Star Families can enjoy a day at the races.