Navy Honors Gold Star Survivor After 40 Years

Story Number: NNS151118-04Release Date: 11/18/2015 9:25:00 AM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Derek A. Harkins, Commander, Submarine Squadron 11 Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Throughout the history of the United States Navy, many Sailors have paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country. Those heroes leave behind family members, such as parents and spouses, who carry their memory with them in their hearts.

They do not carry this weight alone.

The U.S. Navy established the Navy Gold Star (NGS) Program, Oct. 1, 2014, to provide continuing support for surviving family members of Sailors who lost their lives while serving in an active duty status.

Cheryl Caleca is one of those family members. She is the surviving spouse of Petty Officer 2nd Class Curtis Griggry, who served aboard the ballistic missile submarine USS George Washington (SSBN 598) and lost his life in a motor vehicle accident, Nov. 1, 1975, while on active duty.

Lt. Cmdr. Juan Cometa, a Navy chaplain, presented a Navy Gold Star next of kin of deceased personnel lapel button and an American flag to Caleca on behalf of the Navy, during an NGS-coordinated ceremony aboard the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Hampton (SSN 767).

"I think the Gold Star program is fantastic," said Caleca. "I didn't even know this existed before. Then all of a sudden I'm on a submarine, getting a flag and a pin. I am really humbled by all of it. 40 years ago, we didn't have anything like this program. Things have really come a long way."

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.

"Petty Officer Griggry is not forgotten," said Cometa, who officiated the ceremony. "One thing I love about America is that we never forget those who have served their country."

Cmdr. Theron Davis, Hampton's commanding officer, presented Caleca with a command coin following the ceremony.

"It doesn't matter if it was five years ago, 20 years ago or 40 years ago," said Davis. "We are still one force and always together. We showed that today."

Caleca reached out to Sabrina Griffin, an NGS coordinator, who learned Caleca had not received a ceremonial flag or button following the death of her husband in 1975. Griffin contacted Submarine Squadron 11 to create an opportunity to honor Griggry's service on board a submarine.

"I was happy, shocked, surprised and elated that the Navy would do this after so many years," said Caleca.

Griffin and 17 other NGS coordinators are located at Navy installations across the United States. They work with Fleet and Family Support Centers to assist surviving family members in receiving benefits and resources for which they are eligible.

"The flag and pin was something we wanted to make sure she had," said Griffin. "We've been really influential in getting Ms. Caleca the support that she needs."

According to Caleca, the support of the Navy and NGS holds a special meaning for her.

"To me, NGS sends a message that the Navy still cares about all of its families," said Caleca. "It doesn't matter how many years ago a Sailor may have passed away, we're still remembered."

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