Military families are serving, too
Pictured to the left: Adobe Employee Suzanne Wagstaff and son Matthew Wagstaff dancing. Pictured to the right: Matthew Wagstaff in military gear.
On September 21, 2010, Adobe employee Suzanne Wagstaff received news that she had dreaded since her son joined the U.S. Army. Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Wagstaff had died when his aircraft went down during a combat mission in Afghanistan, in a crash that killed 13 of the 15 people onboard, including four other members of the 101st Airborne Division and four U.S. Navy SEALs.
In that moment, Suzanne and her family became what's known as "Gold Star," a designation given to those who have lost a family member in military combat. They also discovered the extensive network of Gold Star Families who support each other and the Veteran community.
"Gold Star is a club you never want to be a part of," Suzanne said, "but you're thankful they're there."
In recognition of Veterans Day, we talked with Suzanne about her son's memory and how she is paying forward the support and love she receives from other Gold Star Families.
Can you share a little bit about Matt?
From age 5, Matt's dream was to pilot the space shuttle, and that passion is what led him to the military. He excelled throughout school, and he excelled at his job in the Army. When he took his pre-flight exam, he got the highest-ever score in the region at the time - before he ever even flew! They were so impressed some of the Army brass flew in to meet him at his swearing in.
He was so big in stature - 6 feet, 4 inches tall - and in personality; he gave these hugs that just felt like big teddy bear hugs. My daughter-in-law, Tiffany, shared a story that once while they were travelling, Matt noticed a young family at a gas station who was struggling, so he anonymously paid to fill their tank.
Those are just small examples of the kind of person he was.
What does it mean to be a Gold Star Family?
The name comes from World War I. Families displayed service flags with a blue star for each family member in the Armed Forces. They would change the star's color to gold if they lost a loved one in the war.
It hit me so hard when Matt passed, and others who had become Gold Stars before me supported me through the grieving process - because nobody prepares you for that. There's no book.
I learned that being a Gold Star Mom means you share your heart with the world: My son gave his life to protect our freedoms. So when I see a new Gold Star Family, I offer support. I give them a big hug. I do whatever I can to help.
How can people support Gold Star Families?
Talk to them. Learn their stories. Thank them for their service, because the families are serving, too. Ask about their loved one. You want to continue to hear people talk about them and hear their name.
For example, Soldiers Angels sent us a card that included the poem "Look for Me in Rainbows," which Tiffany and I read by Matt's gravesite. Right after the funeral, Tiffany and I saw the most glorious double-rainbow as the backdrop to all the American flags around. That was just the first rainbow Matt sent us. Then, on our drive home, another vibrant rainbow appeared right as two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flew overhead. Since that day, people who have learned about my rainbow story send me photos and cards of rainbows and tell me that they think of me and my son now whenever they see one.
A look at some of the photos that Suzanne has received.
We can offer more formal support, too. When I first received word about Matt, I was really worried about bereavement leave. My managers and team told me in no uncertain terms that Adobe has my back and I should take all the time I need. That was a huge positive in my healing journey.
How do you honor Matt's memory?
Lots of ways. One is that we celebrate his life. We made a pact before his funeral that we would all smile once every day for Matt. The day of the funeral, my husband actually found out it was National Smile Day. We thought, "How appropriate is that?"
Matt also piloted a Black Hawk in the first Transformers movie - when films use military equipment, they have to employ personnel authorized to operate it. I still remember how excited he was when he called to share that news. We watch the movie often because it makes us feel like Matt is still with us.
What is the importance of Veterans Day to you?
First, I'm thrilled to see how Veterans Day has grown and blossomed across Adobe, and that we acknowledge it worldwide. It's an important day to be thankful for the freedoms we enjoy and to remember the cost of those freedoms. Veterans put their lives on the line to protect and serve.
It's also an important day to raise awareness: Many Veterans suffer in silence from PTSD and other struggles. We need a bigger push for programs that support them and help them transition into life as civilians. I'm proud that Adobe is dedicated to hiring Veterans and understands the skills they have to offer.
Personally, on Veterans Day, I try to go to events, and when I see a Veteran, I introduce myself, give them a big hug, and thank them for their service. I think everyone ought to do the same.
Adobe Inc. published this content on 18 November 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 18 November 2021 14:02:08 UTC.