By Sarah Roderick-Fitch
When the Blue Star banner is prominently displayed, military families are overcome with a sense of pride; when the Gold Star banner is displayed, there is immense sorrow; but, what is the reaction when the Silver Star banner is displayed?
The Silver Star banner doesn’t denote a Silver Star medal recipient. It represents the recognition of those who have been wounded, sickened or killed in combat. In May 2010, Congress passed a resolution to formally recognize May 1st as the “Official Day to honor wounded, ill and injured veterans.” Officially known as Silver Star Service Banner Day.
Since the beginning of human conflict, the true extent of battle scars has only been visible by the injured. Despite having access to the most advanced and sophisticated medical treatments in the world, some injuries can elude the brightest minds. The Silver Star Service banner is unique, because earning the right to display the banner may occur four months to 40 years after departing the warzone. No drop of blood ever shed, no Purple Heart ever awarded is a prerequisite.
Military families have always kept a soft glow illuminating from the home as a gentle reminder of the warmth, peace and love awaiting their service members. Long after the battles and wars are over, and peace has been declared. Families of military members injured in combat, either physically or mentally, continue to mend the wounds.
During America’s early wars, military members who were shot in the limbs likely had to have them amputated. Horrifically, many amputations were performed with little to no anesthetic agents or pain medicine. Those who lost limbs, but were lucky to survive infections faced lifelong struggles. Up until, well into the 20th century, prosthetics were archaic and painful to wear for extended periods of time. Returning amputee veterans faced difficult challenges in an era when most jobs required grueling manual labor. Putting food on the table and supporting a family was only made possible by pain, sacrifices and determination.
Advancements in medical fields have yielded positive results in maintaining a good quality of life for wounded warriors, including amputees. Prosthetics have enabled double amputees to become marathon runners. Injured veterans and their families are fortunate to receive help from many generous organizations to ease the burdens of some physical limitations stemming from combat injuries.
As the physical treatment of military men and women has vastly improved, it is the invisible war wounds that have emerged from the shadows—especially in the last 40 years. Chemical agents such as, Agent Orange are still claiming victims from the Vietnam War. Gulf War Syndrome has yet to be attributed to any single source, but thought to have been caused by chemical warfare agents—still unidentified. The symptoms are referred to as, “chronic multi-symptom illness.” Lastly, the longest, most prevalent, silent war wound is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It is the invisible battle injuries that often don’t appear for years, even decades. Military families breathe a deep sigh of relief when their loved ones finish their last tour of duty or celebrate their final homecoming. There is a triumphant feeling. The ribbons, medals and awards are proudly displayed. The military life that once dominated, eventually fades into a distant memory.
The invisible wounds may suddenly appear, or slowly develop over time. The injuries aren’t identified as quickly as physical combat wounds. Family members often assume the role as battlefield medics, with little to no training, or advanced notice.
Of all the war wounds, PTSD is the most challenging injury for families to treat and nurture. It is the wound which can be contagious to loved ones, despite never witnessing war. It can turn veterans into prisoners of war, decades after the war ended. It is an insidious combat wound, and innocuous from the naked eye.
PTSD is one of the most cautioned injuries in the military today. It didn’t suddenly develop in the 20th century. There are historic accounts of veterans reaching as far back as the Revolutionary War who suffered severely from PTSD. Sadly, some experienced horrors no civilian could imagine and were locked away in institutions as a result. They were casualties war, but never received the honors they deserved on behalf of a grateful nation.
It is important to recognize, honor and appreciate the devotion injured veterans have given to their country, and loved ones. They have displayed immeasurable perseverance despite insurmountable odds. Warfighting, weaponry, military vehicles, enemies and uniforms have changed many times, but the mainstay are veterans’ commitment to serve their country, community and loved ones—injury or no injury.
Silver Star Service Banner Day recognizes the sacrifices of the survivors. Military families are the backbone of the military who defend freedom. Families proudly wave the Blue Star as they support their loved ones from home. Military families are also the hand used to heal, grasp, guide and hold when their loved ones are wounded. The Silver Star banner is the only one of the three stars, which loved ones of the wounded ought to be recognized for their continual care of an injured vet.
This Silver Star Service Banner Day, let us remember and honor the wounded, but give thanks to the loved ones who have chosen to look beyond the injuries and continue to dignify their veterans with the honor and respect they deserve.