More than a decade has passed since state Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, lost his best friend when an insurgent bomb detonated on a road in central Afghanistan.
Costello still recalls the intense grief experienced by the family of Army Staff Sgt. Edwin H. DazaChacon, 38, a cryptologic linguist assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group, Airborne, at Fort Bragg, N.C.
DazaChacon died when the bomb destroyed the Humvee in which he was riding. When the Army chaplain tasked with breaking the sad news showed up at the porch of the DazaChacon home outside Los Angeles, it fell to Costello to help translate the chaplain’s words over the phone to DazaChacon’s mother from English to Spanish and back.
Memories of DazaChacon’s death and its aftermath still grip the lawmaker, who befriended DazaChacon when both served together in the 82nd Airborne Division during the Gulf War in the early 1990s.
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“In my opinion there’s no more honorable way to die than in service to your country and protecting your country,” Costello said. “But it still does not take away the grief that these families go through and that they feel when they lose a member of their family. That’s something that we as a country and we as a state should honor.”
In my opinion there’s no more honorable way to die than in service to your country and protecting your country But it still does not take away the grief that these families go through and that they feel when they lose a member of their family. That’s something that we as a country and we as a state should honor.
Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton
It’s why Costello signed on as the chief co-sponsor of a bill that seeks to honor all the members of a family who’ve lost a loved one to military conflict.
House Bill 4389 would mandate that the Illinois governor annually designate by official proclamation the day after Gold Star Mothers’ Day — which, under Congressional order, is the last Sunday in September, or this year Sept. 25 — as Gold Star Family Day. The day would be observed statewide as a day to honor and commemorate the families of men and women who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. armed forces in time of war or during periods of hostilities.
Costello said he was inspired to serve as the measure’s co-sponsor because of his realization that all members in a family suffer when a member dies in combat, and not just the mothers, who since World War II have been honored with the Gold Star designation and Gold Star Mothers Day.
“It just kind of dawned on me that families also made tremendous sacrifices,” Costello said. “The fathers, the siblings, the entire family, it affects them. And it’s in my opinion only proper to honor the entire family.”
The bill is now awaiting a vote in the Illinois Senate. The Illinois House passed in last month 114-0.
With a sibling, that’s the one you shared your secrets with, that’s the one you got into trouble with, the one you did good things with. That is who you shared your life with.
Gay Eisenhauer, who lost son in Iraq
As Costello envisions Gold Star Family Day, it would be “a time-out to honor the families that have made such a tremendous sacrifice. These families have made the greatest sacrifice possible, which is giving a member of their family in order to protect our freedom, our Constitution.”
The group that supports mothers of fallen American troops is American Gold Star Mothers Inc. It was formed in the United States soon after World War I to provide support for mothers who lost sons or daughters in the war. The name came from the custom of families of service members hanging a banner called a Service Flag in the windows of their homes. Each Service Flag displayed a star for each family member in the United States Armed Forces. A blue star represented living service members; a gold star those who had lost their lives.
Gay Eisenhauer, of Pinckneyville, is helping push for Costello’s bill. Eisenhauer lost her son Wyatt Eisenhauer, 26, on May 19, 2005, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. Wyatt died on an escort mission when an improvised explosive device detonated on a bridge. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan.
Gay Eisenhauer supports Costello’s measure because the loss of a loved one in combat causes “a ripple effect,” she said. “Everyone in the family is affected by the death. And who says the mom grieves heavier than the father?”
The way parents work through the grief of losing a son or daughter is different than the grief experienced by siblings, she said.
“For me, I gave birth to Wyatt. I watched him grow. I’ve seen all his mischievous stuff,” she said. “I’ve seen all of his good things. But with a sibling, that’s the one you shared your secrets with, that’s the one you got into trouble with, the one you did good things with. That is who you shared your life with.”
Gay Eisenhauer recalled her son Wyatt as the family “giver” who “really strived for the underdog.”
What’s important for Gold Star families is keeping alive the memory of their lost loved ones, she said.
“For Gold Star families the greatest fear is that your son or daughter will be forgotten,” she said.
To that end, it meant a lot when Costello successfully passed a bill to name a section of road outside Pinckneyville in Wyatt’s honor.
“It gives you a sense of pride,” she said. “With Wyatt, he gave his all for his country. It gives you pride as a mother. That I had the honor of raising a hero.”