NEW YORK (NNS) -- As a part of Fleet Week New York (FWNY) and in conjunction with the Navy Gold Star program, Gold Star families were invited to participate in a special tour aboard USS Bataan (LHD 5), May 27.
The term Gold Star family is a modern reference that comes from the service flag. These flags were first flown by families during World War I and included a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the U.S. armed forces during times of war or conflict. If that loved one died while in service, the blue star was replaced by a gold star.
Today, the organization recognizes the sacrifice all Gold Star family members make when a parent, sibling, child, or other loved one dies in service to the nation.
One of the families touring was Michele McNaughton, retired New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer, and her husband Bill of Centereach, New York, who lost their son James, 27, in 2005 while he was serving in Iraq as a U.S. Army reservist.
James, who was a graduating member of the 9/11 class (the first class to graduate after Sept. 11, 2001) for New York City, was also the first NYPD officer to be killed in Iraq. Michele remembers her son as being funny and always having a smile, and said he died doing what he loved to do.
The opportunity to tour Bataan during Fleet Week meant a lot to Michele in many ways.
"Our son was Army, so for the Navy to include us is wonderful," she said. "We actually started with the USS New York when they were in the process of (building) it. They have included us with the christening, the commissioning, we were down in New Orleans, we were here for the breakfast at Tiffany's, I've Tiger Cruised on it; so the Navy has really has embraced our family. I'm happy for the Navy. I absolutely love them."
Michele, who is the local chapter president for the American Gold Star Mothers, said losing a loved one is a tough process, but the organization as a whole can help families with their healing and comfort.
"I tell the families, 'you do what you can, and try it because a lot of times it makes you feel good,'" she explained. "I'm not going to say that it isn't sad and that you won't shed a few tears here and there, but it helps in your healing when you are surrounded by other families, and by the military, because you feel like you're home ... so it helps."
Navy Gold Star is an inclusive program -- regardless of a loved one's military branch, location, or manner of death. Navy Gold Star support coordinators provide dedicated outreach and support when, and for as long as needed, and coordinators are located all over the U.S.
"Our goal is to educate the community, the public, and also our military members about the Gold Star program ... it's a program that the DOD offers to let the family member know that their loved one will not be forgotten," said Diana Burleson, a Colts Neck, New Jersey Gold Star Coordinator for Fleet and Family Support Center, who is supporting a Gold Star information booth on Pier 88S during FWNY. "We are trying to bring awareness so that when people see the gold star on a family member out in public, they can recognize it."
Like general public tours, the Gold Star families were able to meet sea service members, see various static displays, and learn about the ship's capabilities.
"New York City is proud to embrace the military," said Michele. "It makes me proud to have worked and live in New York City, and how they treat our military ... it means something to us."
FWNY is the city's celebration of the sea services and gives an opportunity for the citizens of New York City and the surrounding tri-state area to meet Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. The event has been held nearly every year since 1984.
Throughout the week, sea service members will conduct ship tours; participate in parades; visit area schools, hospitals, parks and senior centers; and volunteer for several area service projects.
For up-to-date information on all FWNY events, visit the official FWNY website at http://www.fleetweeknewyork.com/, "Like" FleetWeekNewYork on Facebook, or "Follow" @FleetWeekNYC on Twitter. FWNY photos can be viewed on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fwnypao/ and Instagram at http://www.instagram.com/fleetweeknyc/. Join the conversation on social media by using #FleetWeekNYC.
To learn more about the Navy Gold Star Program, visit http://www.navygoldstar.com/, or call (888) 509-8759.
For more information, visit http://www.navy.mil/, http://www.facebook.com/usnavy/, or http://www.twitter.com/usnavy/.
For more news from Commander, Navy Region Mid Atlantic, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/cnrma/.