Gov. John Hickenlooper paid tribute Tuesday to families who have paid the ultimate price - the sacrifice of a loved one in military service - during a reception at the state Capitol.
Since 2001, the Christmas tree at the state Capitol has been decorated in honor of Coloradans who lost their lives in service to Colorado and the nation. Tuesday, 37 families listened as the state paid tribute to their sacrifice.
That included the two young children of James Alvarado, a Marine who died at Camp Pendleton in 2014. At the time of his death, his daughter was just four; his son had not yet been born. Together they placed a photo of their dad on the tree.
This time of year is profoundly challenging for Gold Star families, Hickenlooper said during the ceremony. "This is a natural time for love and reflection but also the most poignant reminder of loss and sacrifice." And when sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives enlist in the military, it's not just who makes the sacrifice by serving the state and nation, he said. "It's also the families and friends who make that sacrifice."
Hickenlooper, who said he has been ill and lacking sleep, was emotional during his remarks. He told a story of how his mother's first husband died at the close of World War II. There is "some comfort and joy in sharing loss with others," he said, and said that's why the annual event is so meaningful to him.
TaRhonda Thomas of KUSA lost her brother, Chief Warrant Officer Terry Thomas, in 2006. She appeared to choke back tears as she spoke of her brother. "It's a pain every Gold Star family knows, wishing they were with us for the holidays." Gold Star losses are not just our own, she added. "It's shared by everyone."
The Adjutant General of Colorado, U.S. Air Force Major Gen. Mike Loh, said unless people walk in the shoes of the Gold Star families, "you'll never understand the sacrifices" they've made in the name of freedom.
The reception featured Christmas music from the Colorado National Guard's 101st Army Band.
According to a statement from the governor's office, the term "Gold Star family" is a modern reference that comes from the Service Flag. Families first flew these flags/banners during World War I. The flag included a blue star which represented an immediate family member(s) serving in the Armed Forces of the United States during any period of war or hostilities. If that loved one died during their service, the blue star was replaced by a gold star. "This allowed members of the community to know the price that the family had paid in the cause of freedom."