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Fallen Soldiers honored at Purple Heart Ceremony

By NICOLE PITT

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - A ceremony and a concert on National Purple Heart Day remembers local soldiers killed while fighting for their country. The Fort Drum 10th Mountain Division Concert Band performed in remembrance of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Family members of local soldiers killed in the line of duty gathered at the Purple Heart Memorial Park for the ceremony. Families who have lost a soldier are known as Gold Star Families.

"I lost my son Captain George A. Wood in the Iraqi War in 2003," said Maria Babula. "Right at the beginning of the war."

"Our son Alisha Parker, he was a Marine," said Donna Parker. "He was killed in Iraq in 2006, May 4th."

"My son Blair Thompson was killed in Afghanistan, June 25th, 2010," said Vincent Thompson.

On Monday, 6,741 flags were planted in the park. Each flag represents an American man or woman killed while fighting for their country.

"The greatest fear of Gold Star Families is that their sons or daughters will be forgotten," said Parker. "This means the world to us because we know not only veterans but people in the community come and support something like this. That they honor our sons and pay tribute and that they haven't forgotten."

The ceremony was run by Joseph Fraccola, the Senior Vice Commander of the Department of New York Military Order of the Purple Heart. "We had Gold Star Mothers and Fathers planting flags in this field so they know what it is all about and they are very appreciative of this," said Fraccola.

"Even when we were planting flags, people were stopping to look at the mass of flags and wondering what it was all about," said Parker. "They were just amazed and in awe and interested and when they found out they were very supportive and very compassionate to us."

Gold Star families connect with each other and become fast friends. "It's a support that nobody else can give us," said Babula. "If you're having a bad day I can call her (Donna) and she totally understands without having to give her all the reasons why."

"It does my heart good to be in a place like this," said Thompson. "They don't want to die. They don't go in there thinking that they're going to pass away but they are willing to sacrifice themselves just to make sure you, me and all these folks are safe."

"You do not want your child forgotten. Especially why we lost our kids. We lost them for everyone's freedom," said Babula. "We've were born in the United State and we've had freedoms our while life but you have to work very hard to keep em."

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