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Gold Star Family Shares Their Heartache Over Disrespect for Flag at Protests

We are forgetting someone in this NFL vs. fans fight. They are the most important people among us. The ones who sent loved ones off to war never to see them again. These families have had to sit silently watching a bunch of spoiled, mostly incoherent dunces spit on the flag that bears the blood of their loved ones.

That flag is draped over coffins that arrive in Dover, Delaware. The homecoming the loved ones had imagined, planned for, hoped for was destroyed. Instead, they stand on a tarmac and have to somehow move leaden legs forward to greet the one who didn't make it. This is all that is left. After a lifetime of hugs and smiles, kisses and laughs, what's left is a box draped in a flag. That flag, carefully folded up and given to spouses, children, and parents, is supposed to reassure us that the sacrifice of our loved one is worth it.

My cousin, 1st Lt. Damon Leehan of the Oklahoma National Guard, was one of the many who came home under a flag from Afghanistan. I have avoided writing about it for many years. I thank God that few people today know what a military funeral is like. It was the hardest thing many of us have ever gone through. Unlike a civilian service that is over in a matter of two or three days, a military funeral stretches on for weeks. There was the waiting for his body to be brought back to the United States (which took almost ten days), the greeting at Dover Air Force Base, the homecoming in Oklahoma days later, and finally, the funeral. None of these things happened in quick succession. It stretched on for agonizing weeks.

1st Lt. Damon Leehan and wife Audrey right before his final deployment. (Image credit Audrey Leehan Brasee)

The pain is indescribable. Helping a widow choose not one dress but four different dresses to honor her husband at four different ceremonies, wondering how you're going to make it through yet another day while trying to keep a cheerful face for the toddlers left behind is a Herculean task. Tears keep coming even when you are dried out and dehydrated. Strangers live in the house, dictating your every move, upholding protocol, making sure all the papers (and there are reams) are signed. Enduring protestors who show up with "God Hates Fags" signs on the worst day of your life. Wanting to run out on the tarmac to hold up your sister because she might fall down under the weight of it, but you can't because she has to do this alone. The soldier who left his post to escort the body of his friend -- never leaving his side, sleeping next to his coffin. The jarring crack of the gun salute. Little children standing graveside looking bewildered, one grasping a softie and a bottle. The tears on the face of a hardened soldier as he kneels to deliver Old Glory to the achingly young widow, who isn't yet 30, with a soft word no one else can hear. It is stunning in its cruelty and harshness and equally breathtaking in its honor and beauty.