We are a Gold Star Family: Sucks 2 be U

We are a Gold Star Family: Sucks 2 be U December 15, 2011


Daddy was the first dead person I ever saw.

A child never forgets that image of their father in uniform, dead in a shiny metal casket. I remember the bloat in his face, the result of dying in jungle heat. That swollen face made Daddy look like somebody else’s father. My daddy wasn’t a fat man. There was a blue hue to his lips, the lips that had kissed me goodbye nine months earlier. Don’t cry, he said. It upsets your mama. So I fought back the tears when he left for Vietnam and I willed the tears away again while standing beside Brother John at that funeral home, peering down into that metal casket, wishing my crying Mama would get Daddy a blanket. He looked so very cold.

“Why’s Daddy so blue?” I asked Mama, again and again. “Why is he so blue?”

“Because he’s dead!” she finally answered. She spoke in that angry tone that let me know I’d better not ask any more questions.

My father is a war hero.

My mother is the war widow.

My father’s mother, Granny Leona, was a Gold Star Mom.

We are a Gold Star family.

There was a time in this nation when such a designation would earn a person a modicum of respect. That was particularly true among our own rank and file.

But that was before we became a blood-thirsty people intent on revenge. Before we became a self-righteous people touting victories by displaying the bloodied heads of our enemies in living color on morning news shows. Before we became a taunting people stripping and torturing those we deem less worthy than us. Before we became a barbaric people blowing off the limbs of our very own fallen soldiers. Before we became posers in military gear and metal caskets mercilessly mocking our very own Gold Star families.

“Sucks 2 be U” was the caption underneath the photograph of fifteen soldiers of the U.S. Air Force posing around a military casket. Inside was a sixteenth soldier, mimicking the dead.  The airmen are reportedly from the 345th Training Squadron in Fort Lee, Va. Their unit is a detachment from a command at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

The photo was reportedly taken in August but only recently published in the Air Force Times. An investigation is now underway.

“I don’t know whether any rules have been violated,” says David E. Smith, spokesman for the unit.

And therein is the problem.

When we cheapen life and the living, when we maim the fallen and disrespect the dead, when we disregard all of humanity and fail to treat others with dignity, how then do we differ from our enemies?

I am a Gold Star daughter.

And I am ashamed of the men and women who wear these uniforms and mock the sacrifices that my mother and my grandmother and so many thousands of other Gold Star families have paid.


Karen Spears Zacharias is the author of After the Flag has been Folded, Wm. Morrow.  She can be reached via Twitter @karenzach or at karenzach.com


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • S A Clough

    Not sure if the rules have been violated? What happened to not violating common decency? It sickens me that anyone could show such disrespect to the fallen. They should be as ashamed of their actions as I am proud to be a Gold Star daughter.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Hard enough on Gold Star families during the Christmas season…

  • There cannot be any good reason for this, but I am curious what these airmen offer in the way of explanation.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I am not the least bit curious. I am only hurt, sad, and appalled.

    • I’m not curious. I’m just sad and hurt and appalled.

  • Deedy Salie

    Amen, Karen!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you, Deedy. I knew as the mother of three Gold Star children yourself, you would completely understand.

    • I knew as the mother of three Gold Star children you’d understand.

  • Timdude11b

    I want to ask the knuckle heads ” what were you thinking”. I guess they thought this would be funny. As a soldier who has had many brothers die in combat I can find no humor in it at all.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      That anyone would even entertain the thought that this was funny is troubling.

    • DMW

      Thank you for your service. Like you, it’s hard to imagine what might be in their heads.

    • I don’t want to ask them anything. I just want them to spend the next year cleaning bed pans in a VA hospital.

  • Sandyamor83

    They should be demoted to the lowest rank and start all over. I’m saying that as an Army wife who’s lucky enough to still have her husband and daddy of 2 kids!!!! They might not know how it is to see a “combat buddy” die in battle or else they wouldn’t do stupid things like that. They would respect the fallen and their families!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      They should be dishonorably discharged. Every single one of them and their David Smith spokesman.

    • They should be dishonorably discharged.

  • Patty Hicks

    Karen, like many of us, we do not understand why people are so heartless or thoughtless in their actions. In part I can relate to your story. My father was a Marine, served in WWII, he was a wounded warrior. We walked through the entire Vietnam experience without knowledge of how wounded he was and I think it was in part to seeing the violence and degradation of respect for our fellow man and especially for those who serve. He would have been outraged and broken hearted at the way things are today. I stand along side you and will be sharing your post. Thank you for writing this.

  • There’s no excuse for their behavior. Fortunately, most of our men and women in uniform are not like this. Unfortunately, the ones who behave this way are the ones who get the most attention when we should be giving the attention the ones who are honorable and respectful. And yes, the families are just as heroic as the ones who serve.

    • Debra: While I agree that most our men and women in uniform are not at all like this, I don’t agree that the media hasn’t done a good job of portraying the honorable side of our military. The media has done a remarkably good job of portraying many aspects of those serving, and of their families. However, it is equally important that the media do stories like this. We need to rat out those who behave so deplorably.

  • Jmdwilson91

    How did we get to the point where life is regarded so cheaply and we do victory parades when our enemies die? This is one clock I’d like to see turned back.

    • Jane: I am so with you on this. I so wish we could turn this clock back but we have cheapened life in so many ways in this culture of ours. So, so sad.

  • I’m at a loss for words. I can’t even imagine why they would post for that picture, much less include that caption. I’d like to know the story behind the picture but, again, I just can’t imagine one that would explain such a blatant disregard for life.

  • BJ Jeffries

    Makes me very angry to think of my husbands death to be mocked after serving his country. Disgusting to say the least!

  • Gloria

    Karen my heart is broken by this. I agree with all of the those who have commented but this is especially hurtful to me this week when two 21 year olds from Oregon were buried after being killed in action. My son was in the honor guard for one of those services and seeing this literally sickened me. My thoughts and prayers are with all of our Gold Star families and all of those who are serving and have served. May God bless each of you and supply an abundance of His peace which surpasses all of our understanding!

  • Pmpope68

    That’s just sick, particularly in light of how many of the war dead have come home just in this last war.

  • I see several NCOs in this photograph. Particularly the E-6 (tech sergeant) on the right-hand side. I hope all of them lost ALL of their rank.

  • Ms. Zacharias as sickened as I am by that photograph I can only imagine what it is like for the families of our fallen to see something like that. As a young E-4 posted to Iraq some years ago, my security forces detachment assissted far too many details in loading far too many coffins, just like that one, onto transports for their final journey home. It was all we could do for our dead brothers and sisters.

    The words don’t exist to convey to you the shame I feel that my service perpetrated this. Since the Air Force apparrently lacks the decency to be properly appalled by this, I appologize to you and everyone else like you on my own behalf.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Patrick: That’s very decent of you. I appreciate the heart that compelled such a comment. Thank you.

    • Patrick: I appreciate the heart that compelled you to write this. Thank you.

  • AFRoger

    In some ways, this despicable photograph encapsulates our nation’s efforts, from the outset, to make our past decade of war a spectator sport that is very much optional. Why did our leaders insist that the remains of our fallen sons and daughters be returned under the cover of darkness instead of the bright light of day? Why did we as a free people allow it to continue? Why did we allow, for years, the monetary costs of war to be sequestered in “supplementals” that did not figure into the tallies spoken aloud as accurate counts of our nation’s spending? Why do we still report, buried pages behind the front pages of our newspapers, the latest casualty identifications of the fallen, while at the same time refusing to publish a piece of sobering data: the number of deployments that soldier and his or her family had already endured? Why did a Secretary of Defense not lose his job over an answer he gave to an underequipped soldier in harm’s way: “You go to war with the Army you have, not the one you wish you had.”? Why wasn’t his answer, and our answer as a nation, “We go to war with what we need, being honest and up front about the costs, or we don’t go at all.”?

    The treasonously juvenile mentality behind the posed photo probably says more about the infusion of all aspects of life and thought by our entertainment culture than anything else. Surrounded by reality shows, our life has never been less real, it seems. We humans have always carried around tons of absurd things in our heads. Thankfully, most of it remained there for most of history. Now that all are equipped with cameras and computers, however, we are able to actually translate the messes in our heads into images we can show to the whole world. Instantly and without forethought. They may be smart phones, alright, but that adjective is supposed to pertain to us, not our gadgets. Money can’t buy taste. Technology can’t buy wisdom. Fame and publicity can’t buy judgment. But military training is at least supposed to instill character which uncharateristically lapsed here.

    These airmen have disgraced themselves, Gold Star families, and our nation deeply. I’m sorry they serve in my branch of service. I hope the next years of their lives are spent in ways consistent with repentance. But they are not alone. The whole bunch of us as a free nation have some work to do. See the first paragraph.

  • I just found this story about the Air Force launching an investigation into that photo. http://militarytimes.com/news/2011/12/air-force-lackland-casket-photo-investigation-121311w/
    It doesn’t say why the picture was taken — not that there’s any excuse — but I am curious, as it seems so clearly a departure from decency.

  • Iain McGill

    “Be the first one on your block
    to have your son sent home in a box.
    And it’s 1, 2, 3…”
    Country Joe and the Fish, during another war