JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — The last Sunday of September every year is Gold Star Mother’s and Family Day, where the families of service members who died while in the line of duty are honored.
On this day, these families are remembered for the losses they suffered. While many choose to honor their losses in different ways, Tech. Sgt. Joseph Perez, 26th Aerial Port Squadron ramp services supervisor, said he chose to honor his father by serving in the same unit as him.
Perez said that the main reason he joined the Air Force Reserve in 2006 was in memory of his father. Furthermore, he said he specifically joined the 433rd Airlift Wing as a way to remember and honor him.
“Being a part of the Reserve and the 433rd AW has brought into perspective a lot of things about my father’s job that I didn’t know before,” Perez said. “It gives me a sense of pride that goes deeper than just being a part of the wing; there’s more to it for me and it’s because of my dad.”
On Aug. 29, 1990, Perez’s father was one of the members of the BRAVO-12 aircrew who perished in a C-5A Galaxy crash in Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Perez said soon after the crash he received a call from his younger brother, who saw the news on TV. They had been given enough information on where their father was to be concerned.
“I don’t remember the exact date, but I remember he was activated in early August in support of Operation Desert Shield,” Perez said. “We knew where he was and what aircraft he was on.”
The aircrew was tasked with flying passengers, medical supplies and other cargo back into the hostile area. While taking off from the runway, the aircraft experienced a mechanical difficulty, which led to the crash. Of the 17 people on board, only four survived.
Tech. Sgt. Daniel Perez, 68th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, husband, father and Airman, gave his life in service to his country.
“It was surreal,” Perez said. “My father had been flying for such a long time. I was around 12 years old when he started, and this happened when I was 24. It was so sudden and with it being so far away; I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Often called “the honor no one wants,” Perez became a Gold Star family member that day.
According to defense.gov, the Gold Star symbol began during World War I. At the start of the American involvement in 1917, families hung banners with blue stars representing family members in the services. If the service member died in combat, the family changed the blue star to gold.
The trend has somewhat died out since then, but the meaning behind the stars has lingered.
According to Air Force Wounded Warrior Case Manager, Howard Dixon, Gold Star family members are given special honors and benefits by the Department of Defense. One of the items they receive is a small pin with a Gold Star on a purple field, worn on the lapel.
“This Gold Star pin is a symbol of appreciation for the service member’s tremendous sacrifice to their country and service, and to the families of these brave men and women, so they’ll always be remembered,” Dixon said.
Dixon, who is also a senior master sergeant in the 433rd Medical Squadron, said that it’s important for members to keep their Service Group Life Insurance and virtual Record of Emergency Data information current, so that family members receive these benefits in case of a tragedy.
Other benefits include, but are not limited to, transportation, funeral and burial costs, healthcare, commissary and exchange access, education and counseling services.
More than 7,000 American service members have been killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone since Sept. 11, 2001, and more than 16,000 have died of other causes in that time, according to defense.gov.
For more information on family and service member benefits, check out Military One Source.