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Gold Star Mother presents flag to Will County VAC
Anastasia Tuskey
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Gold Star Mother presents flag to Will County VAC

A special presentation was part of the September board meeting of the Will County Veterans’ Assistance Commission (VAC), held on Thursday, September 13. Denise Williams, a dedicated volunteer at the VAC, presented a Gold Star flag she received at the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run Event to honor her only son, PFC Andrew Meari who was killed in action on November 1, 2010.

“Not a day goes by that I do not think of Andrew and his great sacrifice for our nation,” Williams said. “I am proud to share this flag with the Will County VAC because this agency is committed to helping veterans from all branches of service. Displaying this flag at the VAC offices will be a great tribute to Andrew and all the men and women that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”

Gold Star flags evolved from Service flags, begun during World War I that included a blue star which denoted an immediate family member was currently serving in the armed forces. If the loved one died while on active duty, the blue star was replaced with a gold star. In 1936, the United States began observing Gold Star Mothers’ Day on the last Sunday in September to honor the mothers who lost children on active military duty.

Today, the nation recognizes the sacrifice all Gold Star Family members make when a loved one dies in service to the nation. These flags are a constant reminder that no one has given more to the nation than the family of the fallen.

According to Williams, PFC Meari decided to become a soldier when he was just four years old. She said the family visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. and that visit made a big impact on her son.

“His plans never changed,” Williams said. “He graduated high school in 2008 and enlisted in the Army about four months later.”

Williams said PFC Meari was deployed to Afghanistan where his military occupation was 11 Bravo. He served as a radio operator for his unit and then become the radio operator for the military operations in the entire country.

“Andrew was fluent in Arabic,” she said. “His friends used to call him ‘wicked smart’.”

On November 1, 2010 PFC Meari’s patrol was heading back to base when a motorcycle with an IED detonated directly in front of the patrol vehicle. PFC Meari and another soldier were killed and a couple of others on the patrol were injured. Williams said it was 45 minutes before soldiers on the base knew the patrol had been attacked.

“The soldiers on the patrol did not leave my son’s body,” she said. “I am so thankful for that and I am still in contact with these soldiers today. For all of us Gold Star families, there is nothing we can ever do to repay those men and women who are with our sons or daughters at the time of their death.”

Williams said sharing the flag with the Will County VAC office is a way for her to give back to her son’s community. She said her son may have been born in Chicago but Plainfield and Will County are his home.

“The way this community has stood beside my son and all of our fallen soldiers is remarkable. During his funeral procession through Plainfield and Joliet to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, every street was lined with people paying their respects. That was touching.”

She added the staff and veterans of the Will County VAC have been there to help her heal over the past eight years. She said she will spend her life living up to her son’s legacy.

“Andrew was an ordinary hero. A hero is not a magical creature, just someone called to exceptional service. Most people never meet their heroes, I got to raise mine.”

Williams said she will continue volunteering with the VAC because she wants to offer the same assistance to other veterans and families of veterans that she has received and seeing this flag at the VAC will help heal her pain.

“We are proud to display this flag at the VAC offices,” said Kristi McNichol, Superintendent of the Will County VAC office. “Denise is a tireless volunteer in our office and we are pleased to honor her son’s service to our country with this flag.”

The Will County VAC provides assistance for local veterans and their families and advocates, both locally and nationally, to protect veterans’ rights. For more information about the services available, call (815) 740-8389.

Denise Williams, (pictured on right) a Gold Star Mother who lost her son PFC Andrew Meari in November 2010, presented a Gold Star flag to Will County Veterans’ Assistance Commission Superintendent Kristi McNichol (pictured on left) at the September board meeting. Also pictured are U.S. Army veteran Eddie West (on left) and U.S. Marine Corp veteran Greg Wiza (on right). McNichol said the VAC will hang the flag in a place of honor in its offices. (Photo courtesy of Will County Executive Office).
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