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‘Please don’t forget them:’ Gold Star family marks Memorial Day

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Even 17 years after Staff Sgt. Richard Blakley’s death, his mother and stepfather said the loss still hurts.

Blakley had served in the Indiana Army National Guard for 17 years when he was killed in Iraq by an enemy sniper on June 6, 2006. A medic, he had just been wounded that January and refused to be rotated home due to the urgent need for medics. His stepfather, Don Shauwecker, said Blakley had planned to go to nursing school at Fort Sam Houston.

“He was doing what he loved and he was killed doing what he loved to do,” Shauwecker said. “We’re thankful for that.”

Don, along with Blakley’s mother, Janice, were among a group that gathered at Crown Hill National Cemetery for a Monday morning Memorial Day service. The service was held in a new annex to the national cemetery that opened last July just off 42nd Street. The service included remarks by Michael Stephens, the director of the Indianapolis regional office of the VA Benefits Administration. Stephens said he was named after an uncle who was killed in Vietnam a few months before he was born.

“For a Gold Star family, pretty much every day is Memorial Day,” he said. “So it’s been very special for my family and for me as I grew up.”

Stephens said the best way to honor the nation’s fallen is to remember their sacrifice every day, not just on one day every year. Shauwecker echoed those comments. He said families react to a service member’s death in any number of ways. Some are torn apart or want nothing further to do with the military. Others draw closer than ever to the military community. Some need more privacy than others. Shauwecker said remembering the names and stories of the fallen is what families like his most want people to do on Memorial Day and throughout the year.

“They’re never really gone until they’re forgotten,” he said. “So please don’t forget them.”