Three women. Three separate knocks. Three defining moments that would irrefutably change the course of their lives. Although strangers, they are forever bound by a thread that so beautifully and tragically weaves hope throughout a designation they never wanted: the bearers of The Gold Star.
For Kiley Frederick, a phone call came first. The second she saw the base number on Caller ID, her heart sank; she knew something was wrong.
“I answered, shakily — not recognizing my own voice. They asked me if I was home. If I could sit down. They told me Jake was leading a training mission with his wingman. His wingman was OK. Jake had to eject his aircraft. They assured me they had every reason to believe they would find Jake. That he would be OK; he was one of their best. He knew what to do, and they’d find him.”
But deep down, Kiley knew. “It seemed like more than breath had been sucked out of me,” she shared. “It felt like my world shattered instantly in one unimaginable moment. My worst nightmare, the one you bravely refuse to let creep into your thoughts as a military wife — it was happening.”
Jake used to tell her that with their wonderful little life, every day could be Thanksgiving and every day could be Christmas because of all they’d been given. “We were rich in blessings,” she explained.
When three uniformed officers knocked on her door early the next morning, Kiley collapsed in sobs. Pregnant, a toddler at home and now a widow, “I heard myself saying over and over Jake’s name and, ‘No, no, no,’” she recalled. “I was in the fetal position, crying, thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’”
For Krista Simpson (now Anderson), it was a phone call from the company commander in Afghanistan. “It didn’t even dawn on me why he would be calling me,” she admitted. She heard the words from across the ocean as time stood still: “Michael is alive, but he is in critical condition. There was an accident; he hit an IED while riding an ATV … He is alive, but he is critical.”
Krista hung up the phone and started making plans to get to Germany where her husband was being medevacked. She arrived in country with Mike’s parents, siblings and their spouses, and her only request was that she got to see him first. “I wanted to clean him up before his mom saw him,” she explained. “Silly, but it was all I could think of.”
When she entered the room, she saw her big, bad Green Beret lying broken and vulnerable. “I had never felt so helpless in my life,” she admitted. “All I could manage was a whisper… ‘Dear Lord, please help us.’”
The doctors pronounced Mike brain dead and after much prayer, the medical team came in to get him for organ donation. Krista recalled, “I just kept screaming in my head, ‘I’m not ready!’ But … with as much grace as I could, I leaned down and kissed him one last time and whispered, ‘I love you all the world. I promise you I will take care of our boys, and we will always remember you.’”
For Kim Haley, it was a different type of phone call. She was at her youngest son’s football practice when a neighbor said, “Kim? Katie is on the phone and says there’s a van at your house and there’s some people there in uniform … brown uniforms.”
Kim immediately asked if they were there for her. “I told her to tell Katie (the neighbor’s daughter) to go see if they’re there for me. Katie was scared to go talk to them, and I said, ‘Oh for Pete’s sake, stay on the phone and go find out!’ So she did, and they said yes, yes, they were looking for Kim Haley. That’s me. And I knew. I knew.” She texted her son Cody, a Marine, and asked him if he was okay. “But I never got a response,” Kim said.
Cody had been killed in a training accident only a few months after Kim had welcomed him home from a deployment.
“He was my first baby,” she said. “Cody was very outgoing and was not scared of anything. He was my little spit and vinegar boy.”
Hope after heartache
Three women. Three immeasurable losses. Yet each have taken their unspeakable tragedies and created beacons of light out of their darkness. Theirs are the kind of lights that don’t just brighten a room, but illuminate entire communities and towns. The kind of lights that ignite change and spark movements and kindle hope.
Red Stripe Memorial Run
Kiley has found strength through her faith, in knowing that she and the love of her life will be reunited after her time on earth is done. But while she’s still here, she knows it’s her responsibility to teach her children and the world about the selfless, loving, incredible man that Jake Frederick, call sign “Red Stripe,” truly was.
In December, Kiley partnered with The Wingman Foundation to put on the inaugural Red Stripe Memorial Run. With over 350 runners across the globe, they more than doubled their fundraising goal.
“I’m humbled to be a part of something bigger than myself, and work to make a difference in the lives of others who will unfortunately walk my same path,” Kiley shared. “I can stand here today as a mother, as a widow, as a Gold Star wife, and say I do have hope for my future. I loved being Jake’s wife, and a military wife. I’m unwavering in the pride I have for my husband. His sacrifice. Our country. I think of all the things I’ve been blessed with and I just keep thinking: Every day is Thanksgiving. Every day is Christmas.”
The Unquiet Professional
Krista was named the 2018 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year, largely for her work with The Unquiet Professional, a non-profit she created in Mike’s honor. So much support was given to Krista and her family in the wake of Mike’s death that she needed to give back to the community. TUP provides healthy and empowering opportunities for Gold Star Families, veterans and their families.
“Tragedy did not dictate my life in a negative way,” she explained. “My goal is that other people can see that, and feel that. I want other people to look at me and find hope, too.”
When 55 Marines showed up to Cody’s little brother’s football game the night before Cody’s funeral, Kim knew that she had to pay that love forward. From sending valentines to giving out Cody keychains and sending care packages, her #DoItForCody initiative is making sure that Cody’s legacy lives on through good deeds in a million different little ways.
Kim shared, “I had always thought about what I would do if I lost one of my kids. I thought I’d die, too. But I have to go on. We all do. Cody would want us to. I’m choosing joy.”
Three women. Three role models. Three shining examples of how to find purpose after facing the seemingly insurmountable. Hope springs eternal, even — rather — especially in the threads of The Gold Stars.Read comments