There isn’t a day that goes by that Delita Francis does not privately remember her son, and on Sunday, the Gold Star mother publicly honored his memory at the St. Thomas American Legion Hall.
On display were portraits of her son, newspaper clippings, awards and his uniform; a collection of items that helps her remember her son’s service.
“We have become Gold Star because of the loss of our sons and daughters, and they’ve bravely stepped up to defend the freedom we’ve enjoyed in the past,” Francis explained. “We don’t take it for granted.”
National Gold Star Mother’s Day is observed on the last Sunday in September, to recognize and honor those mothers who have lost a son or daughter serving in the U.S. armed forces.
On Oct. 18, 2013, Francis’ son, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Lyle Turnbull, died during a 10-mile run at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. It was his fifth deployment in his 11 years of service. He was only 31.
“I go down to the cemetery quite often and talk to him, but it’s not easy,” Francis said.
Across the U.S., Gold Star Mother’s Day is marked by public events to honor military mothers and families grieving the loss of loved ones.
“I miss him and I still love him, and it hurts, I can’t explain the pain,” Francis said.
Since her son’s death, Francis typically spends the day at home, honoring her son in her own way, but this year she decided there should be a change in venue.
“We should remember them, if no one else does, I’m always going to remember my son,” Francis said.
Francis has in many ways, fought her own battles in order to remember her son’s sacrifice.
She testified in front of the V.I. Legislature to allow for specialized license plates to honor Gold Star families in the territory. She also ensured that her son’s name is memorialized at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Virgin Islands Veterans Memorial Park on St. Thomas.
“I am proud of his service, but it’s not only him, other military folks as well. It takes a group of us, not just one,” Francis said.
Earlier this year, Francis received a phone call from Diana Hosford, with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a national organization that provides resources to those grieving the death of military loved ones.
During President Joe Biden’s inauguration, American flags were displayed on the National Mall in remembrance of all those who died from the pandemic. Following the ceremony, the survivor assistance program received some of the flags.
“We identified 56 surviving family members, from all across the United States and territories, to send these flags to,” Hosford said.
Francis and her family were chosen to receive a flag for her son’s service.
“I said yes, of course,” Francis said. “It felt great to be recognized in such a way.”
A book, with pictures of each military family holding their flag, was presented to President Biden on Memorial Day and now sits in the Oval Office.
“It was lovely to have her and her son in the book representing the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Hosford said.
Francis said Gold Star Mother’s Day, is “bittersweet” for her, but she knows she is not alone, and remembers all the other families who suffer after losing a loved one who served.
“We salute you, the whole territory, thanks you for your service,” Francis said.