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Gold Star Family candlelight vigil honors loved ones lost in the line of duty

“I didn't realize until I started telling the story that [my father] wasn't just my hero, he was the nation's hero,” Sharon Bannister said.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The National Veterans Memorial and Museum held a candlelight vigil Sunday night honoring Gold Star Families. Each Gold Star family member was given a carnation to lay in a basket in front of the soldier’s cross ats their loved one’s name was read. Major General Sharon Bannister, a U.S. Air Force Gold Star Child, was the keynote speaker during the ceremony.

"Don't feel bad that it doesn't stop hurting,” Bannister said.

That’s the advice Bannister said she would give to other Gold Star families. Bannister knows the pain of losing a service member in the line of duty firsthand. Her father, Capt. Stephen Rush was reported missing in action just a few days before her sixth birthday.

"I didn't know how to cry because I really didn't know what happened to him,” Bannister said.

Thirty-five years later, Bannister was notified her father’s teeth were found and positively identified as his remains while she was working for the Air Force Medical Service. Bannister said that was the day her healing started.

"When I held those teeth in my hand and I looked at the x-rays and I knew that it was my dad, it was the first time I cried because I knew he was home,” Bannister said.

"These kinds of services, big or small, are the things that let them know that the sacrifice was not in vain and to let them know that their loved one is remembered and still loved.,” Lt. General Michael Ferriter, president and CEO of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, said.

Bannister said the hurt in her heart of not having her dad with her is what drives her every day. She added that the connections she has made with other Gold Star families are what has helped in her healing.

"Talking about it has given me experiences and touching opportunities that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't started sharing the story,” Bannister said.

The vigil served as an important reminder of what Memorial Day is all about.

"I felt like I lost my dad who is my hero, but I didn't realize until I started telling the story that he wasn't just my hero, he was the nation's hero,” Bannister said.

The National Veterans Memorial and Museum is hosting its Memorial Day Remembrance Ceremony on its rooftop at 10 a.m. Monday.

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