I had a chance to reconnect with the Clark family of New London, Minn., last week. Tracy Clark was part of a round table panel that met with First Lady Michelle Obama. Her son, Ryane, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. The Clark family is one of the most gracious -- and courageous -- families I have come across covering the return of casualties of war.
They defied the suggestions of the military to keep the media at bay and wanted people to know and witness their grief. They allowed us to be part of the return of Ryane's body when it was flown in to Willmar, the memorial service at New London-Spicer High School and the funeral under October skies the color of a bruise at a little cemetery outside of town. After Ryane's death, his father, Rick, talked about the frustrations of having a son at war, with things as simple as soldiers complaining about not having the right kind of boots for Afghanistan's winter.
The image of Tracy Clark's grief at her son's funeral will never leave me and you could still see the sadness in her eyes when she sat next to Michelle Obama last week. The family is grieving but they also remain angry.
"We want people to know that our kids are not safe over there," she said, after the meeting with the first lady.
The Clarks are now members of Gold Star Families, which honor families of fallen members of the military. Tracy Clark had some simple suggestions for helping people know more about the select group. She said it would be valuable if Gold Star families could maintain some sort of status for access to military bases as a way of staying connected to comrades. She also suggested that the availability of a license plate for Gold Star families be more prominently displayed at the state's registrars. Currently there are 223 Gold Star plates active in the state, according to the Department of Public Safety.
"People don't know who we are. They see my Gold Star pin here and they have no clue," she said.
To see a video of the funeral, go to www.startribune.com/video/105167744.html.
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434