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Honoring fallen heroes

JBLM Christmas trees decorated in ceremony for Gold Star Families

Siblings Kamilah, left, and David Ortega add an ornament to a Christmas tree inside Waller Hall at JBLM in honor of their late father, Sgt. Pablo Ortega, during a Gold Star Families event Dec. 9. Photos credit: Pamela Sleezer, JBLM Public Affairs

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD - Most Christmas trees tell a story through the ornaments hung with care from their evergreen boughs. Inside Waller Hall at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, two Christmas trees share the stories of heroes and sacrifice who have been lost while serving on active duty.

The trees were decorated Dec. 9 during an invitation-only decorating ceremony for Gold Star Families to honor their fallen heroes, and for many it offered solace during a time of year that can bring out strong emotions.

As 16-year-old Aydan Urdaneta adjusted the photograph ornament of his late father, Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Urdaneta, his mother, Lupe Urdaneta, watched him with a careful smile.

"It has been five years," Lupe said. "Christmas is definitely a hard time of year, but it's also really good for us to be at events like this because it helps keep his father's memory alive."

Nikki Macias, with the Survivor Outreach Services at JBLM, said it is her hope through events like the tree decorating ceremony to provide a chance for families to find joy in the season.

"I know today is not an easy day," Macias said to the families gathered inside Waller Hall's lobby. "But my hope is that as we gather, you can share stories and rejoice in the memories of your loved ones."

Gold Star spouse Linda Daniel attended the event to hang an ornament in memory of her late husband, Sgt. Maj. Allen Daniel, who passed away 20 years ago. Over the years, Daniel said she has come to find comfort in gathering with other Gold Star families.

"The pain never goes away, but there is something really powerful and special about being around others who personally understand what you are going through," Daniel said. "You build a tiny circle of people that you can relate to and lean on. In a way, I almost look forward to these events simply because it gives me the chance to see those people again when I wouldn't have the opportunity to see them otherwise."

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