In honor of Military Appreciation Month, three families who lost a loved one in the line of duty received a vehicle.
Keely Schild was seven when her father, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard L. Schild, was killed in action in Iraq after his vehicle was struck by an explosively formed projectile.
Although she was young at the time of his death, Keely has a strong sense of who her father was thanks to the wealth of stories shared by her family and her father’s friends.
“He had a great sense of humor and was really friendly and loved helping others no matter how big or small the need – he was always there to help,” she said. “He said the main reason he joined the Army was it offered free breakfast, but I think he truly loved to wear the uniform and the camaraderie of his fellow service members.”
Keely, who is now 23, is one of three Gold Star Families who were honored with the gift of a vehicle during a presentation with the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium to honor Military Appreciation Month and mark the solemnity of Memorial Day. Gold Star Families are those who have lost an immediate family member in the line of duty while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The “Driven to Serve” program is an initiative between U.S. Bank and Freedom Alliance that pairs available vehicles with military families. The partnership has donated some two dozen vehicles to veterans and their families. This week’s event was the first specifically for Gold Star Families.
“We are so appreciative of the fact that you allowed us to serve you and be with you today,” said Tim Welsh, vice chair of Consumer and Business Banking at U.S Bank, addressing the Gold Star families at the May 11 event. “One of the things I’ve observed about military families is they are not looking for the spotlight. But it is so meaningful to us to be able to thank them for everything they have done, including making the ultimate sacrifice.”
Gold Star Daughters Lilly Hammitt and Gwyneth McSween lost their father, U.S. Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph “Adam” McSween, during the Iraq War when his vehicle was struck by a rocket. Lilly was five at the time and Gwyneth wasn’t yet three.
“We’ve met a lot of military kids but being a Gold Star Family is different, in that other military kids have their parents in their lives. We have similar experiences, but we have the differentiation that our dad didn’t make it home,” Lilly said. This vehicle donation event “is a really awesome way to honor Memorial Day and really honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
For Keely, an interior design graduate from South Dakota State University who is taking classes in small business management, this new vehicle makes planning for her future a little easier. She plans on moving to a larger city and the vehicle will be a reliable way to drive home to see family in Yankton, South Dakota. Her family and her dad’s friends are all very close and gather to share stories on Memorial Day and December 4, the day he died. The 425-person town where Keely was born, Tabor, still holds an annual fireworks show each June to honor her father.
“Our old neighbors started doing it 16 years ago and now it’s turned into a big tradition that everyone looks forward to,” she said. “My dad used to love fireworks.”
Lilly and Gwyneth similarly plan to use their new vehicle to help their education and career ambitions. Lilly just finished her degree as a biology major and is wrapping up her prerequisites to attend chiropractic school. Gwyneth, who graduated from high school this month, will be attending the University of Iowa this fall.
The family’s 2007 Honda Odyssey is on its last legs, so “it will be a blessing to have a reliable car,” Gwyneth said.
The third Gold Star family receiving a vehicle is Veronica Morin. Her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Darby Morin, died from injuries sustained in a vehicle rollover in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border in 2009.
Beyond the gift of the vehicles, the opportunity to honor the service and sacrifice of Gold Star families deeply resonates with the recipients.
“A lot of people associate Memorial Day with BBQs and a day off, but for Gold Star families it’s a super important day,” Keely said. “We try to honor my dad every day, but Memorial Day is a particularly special day for us.”
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