Gold star families honor fallen servicemembers with heartfelt memorial at John Dam Plaza

RICHLAND, Wash. — Gold Star families from across the Pacific Northwest gathered over the weekend to remember their lost loved ones. Hundreds of flags posted at John Dam Plaza honored their service in the United States Military.

Time of Remembrance honors fallen service members and provides support for their families. They’ve set up similar memorials for the last fifteen years, usually during the last weekend in September.

“I can honestly say, from the bottom of my heart, this program saved my life,” says Charlene Hawley. Her son, Daniel, passed away in 2011. She’s been a part of the program for nine years.

“If your loved one is not talked about, then they are forgotten,” Hawley continues. “We come here and we talk and we make it okay for people to talk.”

Hawley’s four-year-old granddaughter attended the memorial service on Saturday night. “She knows all about Danny, and how special he was, and that kind of stuff. So, I mean, yeah. You have to talk about them, so they don’t disappear.”

Shirley Schmunk started the program nearly fifteen years ago.

“When it first happens, you’re distanced from so many,” Schmunk said. “You don’t know what to think, you don’t know what to do, ‘Am I the only one who feels this way?’

“I think the most important thing is that they find out there there’s somebody there who feels the same way they do,” Shmunk continues. “You don’t need to stand there and tell your whole story because you already know how they feel.

“Most of the time, it’s a hug and a tear. And together you share what’s happening.”

Saturday’s event wasn’t only for Gold Star families, it was for anyone to show their respects. Several in attendance were in the military themselves, paying respects to those they once worked beside.

Kris Hemmerling, who served with Shirley’s son Jeremiah, attended the event to pay his respects to his fallen teammate.

“This was like giving back to my fellow brothers and sisters in arms,” Hemmerling said. He was on the team with Jeremiah when Jeremiah was killed in active duty.

“It helps with me kind of progressing, try to heal in some ways. Even though, honestly, I don’t know if I will ever truly heal.”

Time of Remembrance is open to any family member of a fallen military hero. For more information on events and support, visit their website here.