Gold Star families share sorrow, pride

A SOLEMN MOMENT — With her daughter by her side, Ryann Roukey accepts a Gold Star banner for the death of her husband Army Sgt. Larry Roukey in 2008. The American Legion Post 155 conducted a Gold Star ceremony on Oct. 15. (De Busk Photo)

A SOLEMN MOMENT — With her daughter by her side, Ryann Roukey accepts a Gold Star banner for the death of her husband Army Sgt. Larry Roukey in 2008. The American Legion Post 155 conducted a Gold Star ceremony on Oct. 15. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — The irony of life unfolded when Mainer Julia Buxaum learned of her son’s death on Memorial Day eight years ago.

On Oct. 15, Buxaum found comfort in the stories and compassion of other people who have lost family members to the overseas conflicts since 9-11.

The American Legion Post No. 155 in Naples recently presented Gold Star banners to the families of four Mainers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Julia’s son, Spc. Justin Buxaum died in uniform during the War on Terror in Afghanistan. He did not die during combat or from a roadside bomb as have many other Mainers.

A graduate of South Portland High School, Buxaum was only 23 years old when he died. On May 26, 2008, Buxaum’s rifle accidently discharged as his best friend handed it to him. The bullet, which went through his lung and out his shoulder, resulted in a fatal injury.

“He was alive for 45 minutes after the accident. His last words were, ‘My mom is going to be mad at me,’” Julia Buxaum said.

“It was Memorial Day that year. I had moved with my younger son to Georgia. I moved in with my mom because I was having a hard time,” she said.

“We were having a cookout. I looked out the window. I watched a car pull up and two guys from the military got out. I knew right away,” Buxaum said. “My mom went to the door because I fell to the floor.”

HONORING SON’S SACRIFICE — The American Legion Post 155 held a Gold Star Ceremony; and Julia Baxaum, of Biddeford, received a banner to honor the death of her son, Spc. Justin Baxaum, a South Portland High School graduate who died in Afghanistan in 2008. (De Busk Photo)

HONORING SON’S SACRIFICE — The American Legion Post 155 held a Gold Star Ceremony; and Julia Baxaum, of Biddeford, received a banner to honor the death of her son, Spc. Justin Baxaum, a South Portland High School graduate who died in Afghanistan in 2008. (De Busk Photo)

Ryann Roukey became a widow on April 26, 2004, after her husband Army Sgt. Larry Roukey was killed in a building explosion in Baghdad. He was the first U.S. Post Office employee whose life was claimed in the conflict. His death happened six weeks after he enlisted, and two weeks after arriving in Baghdad.

On the day that she received the horrible news of his death, she had just returned from the grocery store.

“The military van was in the driveway when I came home. They were in the house, sitting with my 15-year-old daughter and my son, who was two years old,” she said.

“Even though it’s been 12 years, it never changes the fact it feels like it was yesterday,” she said.

During the Gold Star Ceremony she shared her thoughts with those present, but first she thanked her hosts at the Legion for a wonderful meal.

“Thank you. My belly is full,” she said.

Legion members had volunteered to prepare and serve the three-course lunch for their honored guests.

“I remember very specifically the day I put the banner with the blue star in my window.

And, I remember very specifically the day I took the banner out of the window, and replaced it with a Gold Star banner. It seems like yesterday,” she said.

“All the support from family, friends and the U.S. Military — it has made us stronger,” she said.

“Our stories and circumstances are different, but we all have the same sorrow,” she said, adding it is a sorrow that “does not diminish with the passing of time.”

However, the military honors are a reminder that their loved ones did not die in vain, that they died honorably.

The U.S. military’s practice of presenting Gold Star banners dates back to World War I, when people put blue stars in their windows for family members serving in the military. If someone died during the war, the blue star was replaced with a gold star.

“This allowed members of the community to know the price that the family had paid in the cause of freedom,” according to the American Legion website.

“The United States began observing Gold Star Mother’s day on the last Sunday of September in 1936. The Gold Star Wives was formed before the end of World War II,” according to the legion’s website.

Since his death, Roukey has continued to honor the memory of her husband.

She has appeared at hundreds of ceremonies all over the Nation to accept honors on her husband’s behalf. She has received more than 3,500 sympathy cards from postal workers across the U.S.

“That was huge,” she said.

Lydia Cherry was living in Windham when her stepson Craig Cherry died while serving overseas.

“Craig was getting ready to retire from the military,” she said. “He had just gotten remarried that year and had an 8-month-old son.”

After graduating from high school in 1983, Cherry served with the 82nd Airborne. During the time of the 9-11 attacks, he was in the National Guard in West Virginia.

He was shipped out in 2004.

“It was a quiet Saturday evening. My husband’s youngest son called and told us the sad news,” she said. “The Army went to Craig’s mother’s house first since she was listed as next of kin. The next day, the Army spoke to us.”

“It was an IED. His Humvee was hit. He best friend was killed instantly, and he died later,” she said.

IED is the acronym for an Improvised Explosive Devise, she said.

“But, I call it Insidious because it has killed so many people,” she said.

When asked if she planned to hang the Gold Star Banner in the window of her Westbrook home, Lydia Cherry said, “Absolutely, yes.”

“We have an obligation to honor them,” said Linda Goyet, the aunt of Marine Cpl. Mark Goyet.

“It is very serious business. These young men were all taken from us too early. They sacrificed for our ability to live free here in the United States,” she said.

Linda Goyet attended the Gold Star ceremony on the behalf of her family. She planned to send the banner to her brother, who is Goyet’s father.

The parents of the Maine marine have participated in the Summit Project, hiking to the top of Mount Katahdin and leaving behind a rock with their son’s name.

Cpl. Goyet was a 22-year-old serving in Afghanistan when he was killed from hostile fire on June 28, 2011.

Goyet said that military ceremonies do not hinder the healing process instead, “it is always so helpful.”

“My brother and sister-in-law’s worst fear is that people will forget him. They want for people to remember who Mark is, who Mark was,” she said.

“It means so much to have the community come together to support each other,” Goyet said. “Unfortunately, we all know what that sacrifice means to all of us.”

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