While many celebrate Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer, the holiday is a day of remembrance for many whose loved ones gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
There are dozens of Gold Star wives in the Las Vegas Valley. These are women who have lost a loved one in combat or as a direct result of service.
Taunya Offdenkamp is the president of the local chapter. She doesn’t have a lot of pictures of her husband Rick, but she does have a chapter she wrote in a book, filled with stories of military wives and widows.
“Rick and I are on page 75,” she said. “He died of a massive heart attack in my arms.”
Rick Offdenkamp severed in the Navy. He developed heart problems and lung cancer as a result of Agent Orange, a powerful chemical used during the Vietnam War. Soon after he retired, Rick and Taunya were set up on a blind date.
“We got together on a Saturday,” she said. “And a year and one day later, we got married!”
Together for a decade, she remembers his humor and positivity, even as he battled cancer.
“A lot of times, especially after the chemo, the radiation and stuff, he'd fall asleep,” she said. “But he still would hold my hand and I treasure that.”
Rick died in 2002. Since then, Memorial Day has become a quiet one for Taunya.
“I don’t do really well on Memorial Day,” she said.
Each year, she spends the day inside, watching war movies and thinking of Rick.
“No, I'm not very happy,” she said. “I still want my husband back. I'd give my teeth just to have him sitting right here next to me, or us going fishing or us just talking.”
Taunya said she wants people to enjoy the holiday, but just remember those who sacrificed to make it possible.
“Just don't forget about all of us: the surviving spouses, we're still here,” she said.
Taunya said the local chapter of Gold Star wives has about 40 members. She said that does not include other loved ones, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, who have also lost someone in service.
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