SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- "He had just been frocked and I was so happy to hear his voice when he called to tell us the good news," said Tracy Hicks, a Gold Star family member. As tears filled his eyes, he reminisced about his son, Air Traffic Controlman 2nd Class Matthew Hicks. "A week later, Matthew was gone from us."
The elder Hicks, like so many other family members, are a part of the Navy Gold Star Program (NGS), which was established by the U.S. Navy Oct. 1, 2014, to help provide continuing support for surviving family members of Sailors who lost their lives while serving on active duty.
"He was busy working in the air traffic control shack helping to launch Marine helicopters aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5) in the Persian Gulf," Hicks said. "After his shift was over he carried about his daily routine that involved going to the weight room and then to his berthing compartment."
"Once he got to his berthing, Matthew felt dizzy and sat on the floor while medical rushed to his side," Hicks continued as he touched his gold pin.
The Navy Gold Star next of kin lapel button depicts a gold star in a circle, commemorating honorable service. Four sprigs of oak surround the circle and represent the branches of the armed forces, a decoration introduced by the military in 1977 as a symbol of honor for survivors of deceased service members. While this decoration is normally presented to surviving family members during military funerals, it may also be presented retroactively for service members who lost their lives at any time after March 29, 1973.
"Matthew was rushed by helicopter to Phuket, Thailand, where the news revealed that he had been brain dead before he left the ship," said Hicks. "We flew to Thailand where it was explained to us that an artery in the brain had exploded.
"The most difficult part of that day was the fact that we had to pull the plug on our own son who was on breathing tubes until we got there," Hicks added.
While Matthew Hicks was tragically lost in 2008, other Sailors are being honored from different wars and time periods.
"I lost my brother Marcus Cline in Vietnam," said Barney Cline, another Gold Star family member. "He was on a night raid as a gunners mate in a patrol boat when the enemy collided with his boat and he was thrown overboard and was knocked unconscious on the side of the boat and sank to the bottom of the ocean."
For Cline, Hicks and many others, being involved in NGS has helped bring closure and also attention to the fact that their loved ones who paid the ultimate sacrifice are not forgotten.
Coordinators that are located at Navy installations across the U.S. work to put Gold Star events together. They coordinate with Fleet and Family Support Centers to assist surviving family members in receiving benefits and resources for which they are eligible.
"This is the first year where we invited family members to gold star ornaments on a Christmas tree," said Kelly Donner, Naval Base Coronado Gold Star Coordinator. "We try to put events together where the families can come together and just share memories of their loved ones and support each other."
The ultimate goal for NGS coordinators is to spread the word by placing trees in public places like libraries or museums.
"We want to spread the word that NGS is here for all these families who have lost someone and that they are not alone," said Sabrina Griffin, Naval Base San Diego Gold Star Coordinator. "We have grown a lot in just two years and we will continue to remember fallen service members and their families."
For more information on Navy Gold Star Programs visit www.navygoldstar.com.
For more news from Navy Public Affairs Support Element, visit www.navy.mil/local/npasehq/.