Vietnam Gold Star Families 50th Commemoration Story Project

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CCSU students from Advanced Nonfiction celebrate opening of Gold Star exhibit.

Central CT State University advanced nonfiction writing students interviewed Gold Star family members that lost a loved one in the Vietnam War. They produced a magazine and a traveling educational exhibit, “Gold Star Families: 50 Years Later,” which will be seen by thousands in Connecticut as it travels the state. See Exhibit Schedule.

 

INTRODUCTION BY MARY COLLINS

Be silent or speak.

That was the choice facing many families that lost a son or daughter in the Vietnam War. Most felt forced to say little about their loved one’s service because of the seething civic anger over America’s involvement in the Asian confict.

Single Dog Tag. Photograph by Stephanie Nobert
Photograph by Stephanie Nobert

“He shouldn’t have been over there,” one neighbor told a Gold Star Family at their son’s funeral.

But he was, and he died, and he left behind family and friends that five decades later still feel the impact of that loss. Few of these Gold Star Families have ever even been asked about their experiences since the dreadful day they learned the news that their son, brother, husband or boyfriend died.

Some heard secondhand on the radio while driving home.

Some heard at work.

Some of the women had to stand in their own living room with two soldiers that refused to tell them the news; they would only deliver it to the man of the house.

But remaining silent about such a loss, about such an experience, comes with a price. In many instances those that spoke the least wound up with the most personal problems—too much drinking, depression, and post-traumatic stress that impacted their ability to keep a job.

This Gold Star Project celebrates the healing power of storytelling. Six courageous Gold Star Families agreed to share their tales of losing a loved one in Vietnam and then trying to somehow recover and move on. These essays and reflections are not about the men that died, but about those they left behind.

Even profoundly sad stories can take an unexpected positive turn.

Mary Kight Portrait by Stephanie Nobert
Photograph by Stephanie Nobert

Gold Star Mother Mary Kight tells  a CCSU student about the loss of her son, Michel Kight, and the helicopter memorial on Route 68 in Prospect, Connecticut that stands as tribute to his service and sacrifice. The student realizes she has passed that memorial dozens of times in her life, but this time on the way back from the interview, she stops. “I feel honored to know what it stands for,” CCSU student Katherine Wood writes.

The journal created by my Spring 2015 Advanced Non-Fiction Writing Class offers a combination of student essays and co-authored reflections. In some pieces, a CCSU student worked with the Gold Star Family and edited a longer interview down into a more readable narrative told from the point-of-view of the family member or members. By combing the voices of so many generations, we’ve created a community on the page.

Many of the Gold Star Families themselves remarked that one of the positive things they gained over the years was the Gold Star Community.

“I have met some wonderful, wonderful people that I would have never known,” Mary Kight says.

Thanks to this Gold Star Project and the CCSU Veterans History Project, all of the  ENG 483 CCSU students can say the same.

Mary Collins
Spring 2014