This Memorial Day weekend, the nation will pause to remember and honor Americans of all generations who lost their lives in service to the United States, and this year’s National Memorial Day Concert will spend time highlighting the children of those recently lost a parent in combat and how their lives are forever changed.
The concert airs live on Sunday, May 24, from 8:00-9:30 Eastern Time on PBS. One of the focal points will on the work done by American Gold Star Children to reach out to kids devastated by the loss of a parent and connect them with other children going through the same heartache.
“That’s an ultimate sacrifice when a parent has had to give up their life, knowing that they had a child and yet they put themselves in harm’s way so the rest of us in this country could live the good life and live with the freedoms and protections and advantages we have in this country,” said actor Joe Mantegna, co-host of the National Memorial Day Concert.
“Being able to focus on those children will be a very important part and I’m sure a very moving aspect of the program,” said Mantegna, who is co-hosting the event for the thirteenth straight year. For the past decade, he has partnered with fellow actor Gary Sinise.
The Dostie family was chosen to represent American Gold Star Children at the concert. U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Shawn Dostie was killed in Baghdad on Dec. 30. 2005. The 32-year-old Dostie was a 14-year veteran and left behind his wife, Stephanie, an eight-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter.
“Befor Shawn was killed, I didn’t know myself, even as a military wife, what a Gold Star was. All of a sudden, I became a Gold Star wife and my children became Gold Star children,” said Stephanie Dostie. “Of course it was devastating. Your whole family dynamic changes. The first three years were pretty rough. It took a lot of adjusting.”
She says part of the reason those early years were so difficult is because often times it didn’t feel as though Shawn had been killed.
“As a military family, we were used to him being deployed or in training somewhere, so we were used to him being gone quite a bit. For a long time, it felt like he was still on a deployment or he was away at training. It took a few years to really comprehend that he wasn’t coming home at all,” said Dostie.
Even after that realization, Dostie says adjusting to a new life was very difficult.
“We have spent the last years trying to put everything back together and beginning to be a family of three instead of a family of four. We take it one day at a time, still to this day we take it one day at a time and I think that’s the best way to get through something like this. Surround yourself with wonderful people, have a good support system and take it one day at a time,” she said.
Dostie’s children were chosen as the faces of Gold Star children for the National Memorial Day Concert after many were considered. She says this attention is so meaningful to Gold Star families.
“The only thing harder than losing your hero is feeling like they have been forgotten. To us, this is a wonderful way to honor Shawn. We’re very blessed that they were picked and we’re really looking forward to sharing our story with the nation,” said Dostie, who says her family’s experience with American Gold Star Children has been critical for her kids.
“When they meet another Gold Star child, they have a camaraderie with them. They’re able to open up to that child because that child knows that they’ve been through,” she said.
While life has resumed some sense of normalcy in since receiving the news of Shawn’s death nearly a decade ago, nothing will ever be the same.
“I think my son had a harder time than my daughter for quite a few years. He really needed his dad in his life. There were pivotal points where he just needed his dad there. He can talk to mom but there are some things he doesn’t want to talk to mom about. He wanted his dad there,” said Dostie.
That son will soon graduate from high school.
“It’s bittersweet because I want his father there to see him walk across that stage. It’s going to be a beautiful day for my son. It’s also going to be a hard day for the family because his dad isn’t there,” said Dostie.
“Once you’re a Gold Star child, this follows you for the rest of your life. I think down the road when my daughter’s going to get married, she’s not going to have her father there to walk her down the aisle. I’m not going to be able to sit on a porch with my husband and tell stories to my grandchildren,” she said.
“This isn’t something that ends once the funeral is finished. This is something that follows these children for the rest of their lives,” added Dostie.
She hopes the family’s participation in the concert will help the American people understand families of those grieving loved ones from wars past and present.
“I just hope the nation realizes the sacrifice these children have made by sacrificing their parent for freedom for this country. I hope it brings awareness to teach others to educate what a Gold Star child is,” said Dostie.
The National Memorial Day Concert will have a number of other special features, including a salute to World War II heroes 70 years after the war ended.
Mantegna says with the World War II generation slipping away, this is a critical tribute.
“They’re losing thousands and thousands every day. There’s going to come a time when there’s actually no living person alive from that conflict. Yet it had such a major impact on world history, so it’s important that we spotlight it,” said Mantegna.
He says the importance of the victory in World War II cannot be overstated.
“Evil could have triumphed but it didn’t. It was only due to the sacrifices that millions have made throughout the world, not just in this country but throughout the world,” said Mantegna.