Gold Star mothers have a unique and special perspective on Memorial Day. Aside from the obvious, their stories are really no different from the rest of us who grew up in America in the post-Vietnam era.
Debbie Krupski is a local Gold Star mom, but most of us wouldn’t be familiar with her story. That is because she is from Michigan, and it was while living there that she received the news that rocked her world to its very foundation.
Her oldest son, SPC Christopher Kube, was just 18 years old when he was killed in action in Iraq on July 14, 2007.
Since that day, this mom has had one wish where her son is concerned, the same wish of every parent whose child has been a casualty of war: That he not be forgotten, “not be just a faceless name on a wall.”
To that end, she says she was willing, even eager to speak to every media organization that asked to interview her, even in those first days when she could barely breathe.
She said she “made sure there were pictures of my son everywhere.” Every time someone wanted to stick a camera in her face, she would hold a picture of her son and say “look at this face. He had a life, a soul, hopes, dreams and a purpose for a future. There’s a lot behind that name.”
Her second wish is that people today not have the same experience she did while growing up. Even though her father was a World War II veteran, Memorial Day to her as a kid was little more than the start of summer, a day off school and an opportunity to have friends over and have fun. It's a memory for which she is somewhat ashamed.
But, that is what it was like growing up in the 1970s. It was simply a part of the culture of the times.
This culture is what she wants to see changed, and she does see signs of that happening. Still, she admits to struggling with “anger at the lack of respect” for the meaning of the day. She wants the day to be about spending time with family and friends, but wishes more people chose to spend at least part of the day going “to a national cemetery, placing a flag on the graves, go to a Memorial Day parade. These are family activities. Remember why you have your freedoms. Give respect where it’s due.”
Most of all, she wants parents to teach their children that freedom isn’t free.
Debbie spends her limited free time volunteering with Operation Support Our Troops-America, though she is not able to give as much time as she would like. She helps out packing boxes, sorting donations and doing whatever else she can to aid in their mission of sending care packages to our troops still in harm’s way.
She does this when she is not busy at her day job, which is working in research at a Veterans Administration hospital.
She hadn’t set out to find a job working at a VA hospital, or serving our military in any capacity, at least not intentionally, she says.
“There simply weren’t any jobs in Michigan, and I looked everywhere," she says. "I’m still looking and desperate to get back to there, to my kids. They need me there”.
Doing what is best, the best she can for her son and her four children -- who are 14, 17-year-old twins and 20 -- still living in Michigan with their father is what gets her out of bed every day.
“It is very hard”, she says, living here in Illinois, in Romeoville.
It is always a difficult thing, to talk to someone about these, her deepest feelings. But she hopes that by speaking out she may be able to touch or reach just one person in the next generation who then has a better, deeper and richer
understanding of Memorial Day.
It is often said that the one true wish of every Gold Star parent is that their child not be forgotten. On this one day of the year, all the sons and daughters are being remembered, something that gives Debbie some measure of peace. She feels this is her journey and purpose in life.
It wasn’t until after she accepted the job and the requisite move to Illinois that it dawned on her “that perhaps there was a reason,” something she needed to be doing and that she was “placed there by God and my son.”
It may well be that part of the reason is to help people understand that a soldier who gave his life for his country doesn’t belong to just one town. These soldiers are America’s sons and daughters and they belong to all of us who are living our lives the way we choose because of their sacrifice.
Debbie’s stories of her son are all too familiar when talking about these young heroes. She just wishes he had waited a little longer to enlist, something he did soon after his 17th birthday.
At first she had serious reservations, but saw the possibilites for his future. “He was so certain, he wanted it so bad, my only thought was that it would be good for him and his future. He would have opportunities for college and a possible military career, if that was what he wanted.”
He enlisted in October 2005 and died less than two years later, just three months shy of his 19th birthday.
“He was still half a kid, still felt he needed to prove he was a man,” an attitude that endeared him to many of his brothers-in-arms. She said they used to razz him, asking if he was old enough to even be in the Army, but she says “he was a kid brother to many of the guys in his unit. They protected him, and I think he got away with things” some of the older guys may not have.
A large part of the reason for that she believes is what she was told time and again at his memorial service at Fort Carson in August 2007, that he was “the morale booster, the clown, but really just acting like a teenager." She said she has “heard countless stories of how he always was putting a smile on someone’s face.”
One of the things that has struck her the deepest, and in the best possible way, is “how many lives he touched.” Yet, one of the most heartbreaking thoughts she has is “how many more lives he could have touched.. She is still amazed that he could have known and affected so many people in just 18 short years.
Debbie has been humbled and moved by how many were there for her and her family. These are the memories she holds on to, particularly when thinking about his siblings, the youngest in particular.
“She was only nine when Chris was killed, and at times I worry she won’t remember him," she says. But then Debbie goes on to say how all the siblings look up to Chris and say, “I bet Chris would be proud of me” when they reach life’s milestones and accomplishments, whether it is getting a good grade or just being a good person. He is still their big brother, and is most definitely their hero.
To make Debbie’s wishes come true, the ones she shares with all Gold Star families, take a moment on this Memorial Day and think of the lives and the people left behind when our heroes make the ultimate sacrifice.