VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Some memorials aren’t inlaid with platinum, or ten feet tall, or carved out of Italian Marble.
According to reports, for Capt. Nathan Nylander, an Air Force meteorologist, April 27, 2011, was just another day on deployment. The Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Airman was deployed and at a meeting in a secure part of Kabul International Airport when shots rang out in an adjoining room.
After helping usher ten people from his Air Command and Control Center meeting room while a melee continued next door, Nylander and a fellow officer took firing positions. Soon, they engaged a rampaging Afghan Air Force helicopter pilot, and following a firefight the father of three eventually succumbed to his injuries.
Nylander was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions – his family received a gold star.
The term “Gold Star Family” originates with service flags. According to Title 36 of the United States Code, starting in World War I, American families would display service flags on their homes to signify military service. Later codified after World War II and still recognized today, a blue star signifies a deployed service member, a silver star means a family member was injured in battle and a gold star means that a family member has paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Today, Gold Star Families have formed support organizations, such as Gold Star Wives of America, American Gold Star Mothers, and Military Families United.
Approximately three years after Nylander fell, his widow, Miriam Hamilton, the spouse of Capt. Blake Hamilton, the 71st Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight commander, was at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, when she saw a simple sign that got her thinking.
“I was pleasantly surprised to find designated parking for Gold Star Families,” she said, and added that she was touched that the Navy had started a push to see GSF parking at all of its installations.
Although the Air Force has claimed less combat casualties in modern conflicts than other military branches, Hamilton said she was still surprised that some people on Air Force installations didn’t know what a Gold Star Family was. She said she felt parking spaces like those on Navy installations could start to change that.
“I’ve spoken to people of all ranks and told them we are a Gold Star Family,” she said, “and they’d say ‘what’s that?’ People need to know what that means.”
Now stationed at Vance, Hamilton said she first went to 71st Flying Training Wing leaders with her idea, and on a small base with relatively tight confines, they came back with only one answer to her request – absolutely.
Col. Clark Quinn, the 71st Flying Training Wing commander, said the idea to honor Gold Star Families, as well as Purple Heart recipients, couldn’t have come to Vance soon enough.
“This sign represents more than just a reserved parking spot for our combat wounded and Gold Star Families,” he said. “It also serves as a constant reminder to all who see it that many military members and their families have given so much to their nation. We all know that’s true, but we also probably don’t remember it often enough.”
Hamilton said she couldn’t agree more; she hopes that the parking spaces will serve as conversation pieces.
“Our largest demographic here is students,” she said. “This isn’t a base with a lot of brass or seniors – there are a lot of fresh faces. They need to know what a gold star means because at any point, they could become a part of that community. Unfortunately, they won’t have a choice.”
Hamilton said she’s also received confirmation from Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, for Gold Star Family parking there, and she’s currently working with Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, leadership on initiating the same effort there.
“We’re starting with one base at a time,” she said, “but we want to see the whole Air Force embrace this before we’re through.”
Some memorials aren’t inlaid with platinum, or ten feet tall, or carved out of Italian Marble.
Some memorials are the widows who honor the dead with fervor for those who pay the ultimate sacrifice, and those new to wearing the uniform and their families.
Some memorials are sons and daughters who remember their fathers as heroes who’ve fallen in a foreign land in the hopes that others may live in peace.
And some memorials are even parking spaces.
“You had to know Nathan,” she said with a smile. “He was there for everybody – sometimes he even put Airmen before [his family]. To the end, he was about helping other people. Because our Air Force family has lost so few in comparison to our other branches, it’s hard for a lot of our families to know what we’ve been through.
“We need to know who needs taken care of in case these things happen. Nathan was always there for people – we’re just trying to carry on what he didn”t.