By Howard Altman
Published: February 12, 2016
“The event provides an atmosphere to create new relationships with other surviving families,” Giddens said. “It is a chance to gain spiritual insight and resilience, and to interact with the Army Reserve community.”For Yolanda Mercado, the pain of losing her son while he was deployed in Afghanistan more than four years ago is still raw.
That’s why she is looking forward to Operation Love Letters, a commemoration of Americans who died while in service to the country that is being held for the first time in Tampa on Saturday.
“It is important to me because it is to honor our loved ones,” said Mercado, whose son, Army Pvt. Jalfred D. Vaquerano, was 20 when he died from his wounds in December 2011 after being shot in Logar province. “It’s a day to remember the good times we had with them and share it with others.”
Operation Love Letters was created to bring Gold Star families together to remember their loved ones, said Mercado. The families bring their loved ones’ favorite dessert to share with their memories,, she said. They also write letters to them, do crafts as mementos and release balloons “with the hope that it reaches their loved ones,” she said.
The event will be held at the Tampa Veterans Memorial Park and Museum as a collaboration between the Army Reserve Survivor Outreach Services (part of Army Reserve Family Programs), the Army Reserve Medical Command, as well as survivor family members, said Marshall F. Pesta, an Army Reserve spokeswoman.
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