by Sheila Gardner

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May 25, 2012
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A place to sit and reflect

For Sandy Hannah, the new benches in front of Carson Valley Middle School will be a good spot to sit and think about her son Cody, a 24-year-old sergeant serving in Afghanistan in Army intelligence.

To Paul Blum, 77, a Korean War veteran, the benches remind him of his long-ago service as a Marine corpsman.

Julie Fleischmann can sit with her 17-month-old daughter Jennifer and reflect on her two sons serving in the Air Force.

For Margaret Pross, who organized the fundraising to purchase and install the "benches of gratitude," they are symbols of a community that remembers and appreciates the men and women who serve in the military.

"We could have gotten a few big donations and paid for the benches, but we wanted a community event that shows our servicemen and women how much we really care about them. We wanted to have an opportunity for everybody to participate," Pross said at a dedication ceremony Thursday at Carson Valley Middle School.

Pross announced the project in March and within two months, nearly $3,000 was raised. The donations ranged from $5 to $1,000.

She worked with the Blue Star and Gold Star mothers' organizations, veterans' groups, the Douglas County School District, the Town of Gardnerville and the bench support project of Main Street Gardnerville.

Her goal was to have the two benches installed by Memorial Day.

"I knew it would work out," she said. "Our community is very, very generous and supportive of the troops. This whole project brought me to tears a couple of times."

The benches - honoring Blue Star and Gold Star families - were installed on the sidewalk in front of Carson Valley Middle School in Gardnerville. The Blue Star represents families with active or former service men and women.

The Gold Star is given to families who have lost loved ones in combat.

Hannah was one of 40 people who attended the dedication

"I miss him. I worry," Hannah said of her son Cody, a Douglas High School graduate.

He is on his second deployment and is expected back at the end of June. He's been gone for one year.

"He left on my 55th birthday," she said.

Hannah became involved with Blue Star Mothers during her son's second deployment.

"It's been a lifesaver. It's a safe place to go to talk, cry or worry. I think more people could benefit from it," Hannah said.

Blum served as a corpsman with the 1st Marine Division from 1952-1956 and spent one year in Korea.

"It's great to honor these men and women," Blum said.

Julie Fleischmann also is a Blue Star Mother, and contributed to the fundraising for the benches.

Having two sons in the military makes the organization an invaluable resource.

"It's been a wild ride," she said. "I am a little emotional. I couldn't be prouder of them."

Little Jennifer wore a bright blue T-shirt that read: "My big brothers are in the Air Force," referring to Nick, 21, and Chris, 20.

Hannah and Fleischmann said they felt their sons were treated with respect.

"The general public honors our service people, but I think they are fed up with the war," Hannah said.

Fleischmann said she taught her children from the time they were toddlers to respect the military and thank them for their service.

When her sons are traveling, they often are the beneficiaries of free meals paid for by grateful strangers, Fleischmann said

"My son said someone tried to give him $30 in an airport," she said.

Caleb Cage, executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, said his office receives many invitations for public events, but it was an easy decision to come to Gardnerville.

"We see ourselves as part of the same community you are," Cage said.

He said the benches have different meanings.

"Are they just a place to sit?" he asked. "The veterans say they offer a place to reflect on a broader picture for the community of what we have and why we have it.

"I hope every time you drive by, or walk by, or sit on the bench, you reflect on Blue and Gold Star families, and find great meaning on Memorial Day and every other day. These are wonderful sentiments, and I believe exactly what Gardnerville meant to accomplish when you started this project."

Gold Star mothers Sally Wiley and Debbie Walker stood with their arms around each other during the dedication.

Wiley's son, Staff Sgt. Sean Diamond, was killed in Iraq in February 2009.

Wiley said she was grateful to be part of the veterans' services organization and the bench project.

"It makes you feel really special when people do things like this. It's a great honor for the Gold Star and Blue Star mothers. I'll always have a place to sit and remember Sean."

Walker's son, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Rodgers, was killed in Afghanistan on May 30, 2007.

"This is going to be a special place for us to come," Walker said. "My sister and I already talked about it. We'll go get our coffee and walk down the street and sit on the bench. I'll look at those mountains and think about Josh, about how he learned to ride his motorcycle, and went to school here."


Sierra Nevada Chapter 2 Blue Star Mothers meets the second Tuesday of the month, 6 p.m., Silver Oak Golf Course, 1251 Country Club Drive, Carson City. The group serves military families in Carson Valley, Carson City and Dayton. President, Susan McElfish, information 882-7155.


Blue Star bench:

Sponsored by Grateful Citizens

Dedicated to the brave men and women who are fighting or have fought for the freedoms upon which our country was founded, we thank you.

Gold Star bench:

Sponsored by Thankful Citizens

Dedicated to the courageous men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives fighting for our freedom, we will be forever grateful.

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The Record Courier Updated May 28, 2012 11:17AM Published May 25, 2012 07:19PM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.