Stories of heroic courage and selfless sacrifice from those serving on the front lines of battle often make their way into books and movies, ingrained in our popular culture and mythology.

Far less known are the stories of survival at home, where life must go on, when those warriors never return.

Thousands of military spouses have endured the heart-breaking, life-changing knock on the door, and today, April 5th, we honor them, on Gold Star Spouses Day.

Charissa “Char” Fontan Westfall endured just such a knock on the door. Her husband Jacques, a Navy SEAL, was deployed in Afghanistan. On the night the news programs covered the tragedy of a helicopter being shot down, her first thought was “Oh my gosh, I feel terrible for those families.”

The next day she got an official call letting her know the helicopter had definitely been from SEAL Team 10, but who was on that helicopter and their status was still unclear.

The day after that, Char was hosting a weekly dinner for friends on base — an outdoor BBQ.

She heard the sounds of car doors slamming, then saw three men in uniform approaching. It confirmed her worst fears.

“Get upstairs!” one of her friends yelled and grabbed her arm. “We’re not doing this in the parking lot.”

Char’s husband Jacque had been one of the 16 men on the MH-47 Army Chinook helicopter shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade the day before, as part of Operation Redwings. It was the helicopter sent to rescue the four SEALs stranded on the mountaintop where Marcus Luttrell ultimately became the “lone survivor.”

Char was just 29 when she became a widow. Suddenly she had to buy funeral dresses for three separate services: One in Jacksonville, one in Jacques’ hometown of New Orleans, and one for the Navy’s official ceremony for the men killed in Operation Red Wings.

She dutifully attended each one, numb with grief. After the services, she cut up every dress and threw out the shredded remnants.

Over the years, Char has worked through her grief and anger at God, at Jacques, at the universe. But in time, she has found new love, regained her faith, and grew to accept what had happened in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005.

It has not been an easy battle, but she has endured, and last year published a book called Beautiful Tragedy: A Navy SEAL Widow’s Permission to Grieve and a Prescription for Hope with a forward by Marcus Luttrell.

It provides a way forward for those who have lost their loved ones, and sadly earned the Gold Star, and sheds light about the realities of war and survival for those outside the military community.

The origins of Gold Star Spouses Day go back to World War I. Army Captain Robert L. Queissner had two sons serving on the front lines during “The Great War” and created what is now called the Service Flag in their honor. The original flag, which displayed a blue star on a white background, was displayed to represent a family member serving in the military during times of war or hostilities.

In 1918, the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defenses that mothers who had lost a child serving in the war asked for presidential approval to wear a gold star on the traditional black mourning arm band. Their request was approved by President Wilson. This recognition led to the tradition of replacing the blue star on the Service Flag with gold to indicate family member had died in the line of duty.

In 1929, 25 mothers who had lost children in WWI, formed The American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. and on June 23, 1936, a joint congressional resolution designated the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mother’s Day. In 2011, President Barack Obama amended the day to “Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day” to recognize the sacrifices of all family members who lose a loved one in the line of duty.

The first Gold Star Wives Day was observed in December of 2010. Then in 2012, the U.S. Senate designated April 5th as Gold Star Wives Day. The Senate later changed the name to spouses, because not all who have lost someone in the line of duty are wives.

The Gold Star pin itself was introduced in 1947.

Today, we honor and remember all Gold Star Spouses, and pray for the restoration of their broken hearts.

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