A tour bus carrying veterans who fought in one of the nation’s wars from 1941 to 1975 pulled up to a row of glistening white headstones in one section of Arlington National Cemetery. After the bus slowly rolled to a stopped on this late spring day, about a half-dozen passengers disembarked.
Steven Ward, who moved to Yerington two years ago from Washington state via a two-month stay in Fallon, walked with others trailing him to a specific spot in the neatly manicured grass, stopped and looked around him, and then placed his hand on top of the gravestone. He stopped to see his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Eric L. Ward, who died in combat in Afghanistan on Feb. 21, 2010, at the age of 19 during what the Department of Defense called hostile action in the southern part of the country. Eric L. Ward, a fifth generation Marine, was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom as a machine gunner with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Ward, along with three others who lost a family member in war, will speak at Saturday’s dedication of a Gold Star Families Memorial at the Northern Nevada State Veterans Home in Sparks beginning at 3 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. In late November, Ward, along with other Gold Star families, participated in an Honor Fight Nevada trip to Washington, D.C., and also to Annapolis, Maryland, where they saw that state’s memorial.
Jon Yuspa and David Sousa, both members of the Nevada Gold Star Memorial Foundation, had started with an idea for Northern Nevada to have its own Gold Star Families Memorial, sought donations and then received help from various organizations and volunteers to construct the memorial, all within one year. Saturday marks the unveiling of the memorial west of the new veterans’ home at 36 Battle Born Way and will feature appearances and speeches from Medal of Honor recipients Hershel “Woody” Williams, World War II, and Donald “Doc” Ballard, Vietnam War.
Yuspa said the Nevada Gold Star Memorial Foundation has been able to work on planning and will complete the memorial by the end of the month.
“I’m happy how fast they put it together,” Ward said.
Ward, who served in the Marines for 10 years, is no stranger to soliciting funds for Gold Star memorials. When he lived in the Spokane, Washington, area, before moving to Nevada for a new start in life, he was part of a group who ensured the area had its own memorial by raising thousands of dollars.
“Truthfully, we found a lot of people who had honor,” he said.
Ward, who accompanied other veterans as a guardian and visited his son’s grave earlier this month, said it was one of the first times in almost 10 years he hasn’t paid his respects by himself. As a father who lost a child, he knows the importance of healing and now sharing. He is inspired by the number of smaller community memorials dedicated to the servicemen and women killed in combat such as those in Fallon and Carson City and one that will be built in Yerington. He is also pleased with plans to erect a Gold Star Families Memorial in Southern Nevada.
When Ward and other Gold Star families took last year’s late autumn Honor Flight, he met other families who shared the same feelings and pain. Others, including Ward, realized that combat soldiers and Marines, for example, lost many buddies who were killed on the battlefield, and they have also felt a similar loss and pain. Ward said his son was special like the thousands of other individuals killed.
“He was a funny kid. He was a generous kid,” Ward explained.
Ward’s voice became quieter and more reflective when he mentioned his son’s death when fighting the Taliban in Helmand Province. Ward learned through his son’s heroic actions he saved many Marines from being killed. When others, including veterans, learned of Ward’s loss, he said many don’t know what to say or how to act. Some friends he knows have drifted away.
Diana Brown of Stateline, Nevada, lost her father during the Korean War when she was 5 years old. First Lt. Frank Salazar was a member of the Nevada Air National Guard when the unit was activated stateside in 1951. Her father, though, volunteered to go to Korea, but he was shot down in his P-51 on a reconnaissance flight somewhere over North Korea on Dec. 31, 1952. For one year, Salazar was declared missing in action until he was declared dead.
Brown, though, didn’t learn her father’s fate until she was a teenager and learned more about him as the years passed. She gave a DNA sample in 2007 in case any returning remains were that of her father, yet she said the North Koreans haven’t returned her father, and she doesn’t have much hope they will be found. In 2018, the Nevada pilot received a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery with honors.
After a Flag Day ceremony behind the state Capitol at Veterans Memorial Plaza in Carson City, Brown visited the Battle Born Memorial and looked for her father’s name. Recently, Brown attended a ceremony for Gold Star families at the White House, and President Donald Trump mentioned three incidents including one that involved her father.
“Fifty families attended, and President Trump mentioned the mission of three fallen veterans. I was surprised my father was one of them,” she said. “It was an honor for him to say my father and his mission and my name as well.”
Her thoughts turned to Gold Star families.
“I’m not as involved with Gold Star families as many are,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of the civilian population knows there’s a name Gold Star Families and what they are. They’re not aware of the sacrifices a veteran makes giving his life for his country.”
Brown said families live with that thought for a lifetime, but she also said it’s important to remember who those veterans are.
“I want to keep it in the spotlight,” she stressed