Gold Star Families Memorial Keynote Address 

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base 

4 June 2022 

*This is an article from the Winter 2022/2023 issue of Combat Stress

By Kathy Platoni, PsyD, DAAPM, FAIS 

Clinical Psychologist 

COL (RET), US Army 

Veteran of Operation Desert Storm and the Global War on Terrorism ~  JTF-GTMO, Iraq and Afghanistan 

Dayton SWAT 

Member, Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame 

Member, Greene County Veterans Hall of Fame 

Editor, Combat Stress Magazine 


You have given all of us, every one of us the gift of your sons and daughters, your parents, your siblings, your nieces, your nephews alike; those who are the true and rightful and authentic heroes of this great nation, on battlefields far removed from the homeland. Very few will ever understand the magnitude of this sacrifices made by your loved ones or by their families. They risked all by signing that blank check to the United States of America to give all and for a cost that few will ever understand or fully appreciate. It is not just your loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice…. you did as well as their beloved families, left to navigate their way back to some kind of meaningful life. This, by default, defines and distinguishes what giving all looks like. And this is expressly what we were all asked to do simply because we answered that call of duty, the utmost and loftiest honor ever to befall those who proudly swore that oath of allegiance for duty, honor, selfless service and above all, for country, not ourselves. Nothing compares. Nothing ever will.  

Unfortunately, while America went to the mall, many of us went to war instead. The best that most of America could do on our behalf was to stick a “support our troops” magnet on their back bumpers (Testerman, 2016). 99 percent of the American populace simply will never “get it” and they best too many of them can offer is an insincere “Thanks for your service” or ”Get over it” when we lament our losses. What has been given up at the altar of freedom is priceless, yet few will ever rise to this occasion where the understanding of the depth and breadth of the value of what has been offered up as inherent in dying for one’s country or of laying down one’s life for their friends, for their country, resonates within their souls. We have too often become shameless people outside of the military and Veteran communities in failing to acknowledge this.  

It was last week that we celebrated Memorial Day, which long ago became a day of day of brats, burgers, and good deals at the big box stores, much of it unremembered in the fog of a lingering hangover after a hardcore holiday weekend of partying. For the families of the fallen, the lifelong struggles of personal loss can only be intensified as this holiday and in fact all holidays bear down upon them (Steen, 2019). We can ill afford for the meaning of Memorial Day to be diminished or taken for granted. We who serve and who have died in service of this nation have paid a cost beyond measure, yet this too often goes unnoticed. To offer the celebratory greeting of “Happy” Memorial Day flies in the face of decency for Gold Star Families and once again, devalues and mocks their losses. It is critical to acknowledge the somberness of this day and the gravity of such immeasurable losses. Perhaps the time is long past due to alter the focus….remember the fallen or never forget; nor should we.

There will never be a time when you are able to unsee, unfeel, or put aside the grief that stems from such overwhelming losses. Wounds may heal, scars may fade, but grief is not finite. Grief has no time frame and expiration date. The burdens you carry will last a lifetime. It is up to the rest of us to carry them with you and to do better as a grateful nation to deliver that message. Despite the empty words of those at the helm, this is not a journey to be walked alone, for your losses are unfathomable. The pain, the ache, will continue hourly, daily, forever. It may get better, but then again, it may not. The weight of such anguish, the price, and the toll of the Gold Star Family are incalculable. So is the ever-present suffering.  So is the continued mourning….for a lifetime. The lives of your loved ones must be on our hands and in our minds as well. We must speak often of the fallen and never fail to preserve them in our conversations. Hearing their names mentioned often becomes a gift for these families and so we must never close the door on them for such opportunities that might otherwise be missed. (Cordova, 2017, Steen, 2019). Free reign must be given to leave open the chance to rant, to rage, to cry, and to reminisce. It is the rest of us who should be there to wipe your tears and hold your hands in ours. Make those desperately needed connections for which these families yearn, as few are willing to look them in the eye for fear of their own discomfort. The loss of a loved one in time of will more than likely jar you into a new reality that you never asked for, that you never saw coming, hurling you into the abyss of despair from which there seems to be no escape and from which you may have to dig your way out just to be able to breathe once again. This all begins with that dreaded knock at the door with the arrival of casualty affairs officers, those entrusted with the most God-awful job in the military. It seems inconceivable that life would gut/eviscerate families of the fallen in this way. There is infinite wisdom that may come from this, and the tragedy that arrived on your doorstep need not define the remainder of your lives, but for a long while, awful and horrible will be your constant companions. What comes next is renewal…. if you allow this to take hold. You must become the warrior to do so, to scratch your way to the top of that cavern to find that you are no longer paralyzed by what life has so brutally delivered/carried to you. There must be intention and above all, value, meaning, and purpose in the whys fighting your way back. Even terrible things can be transformative. Having a goal, a direction will serve as a compelling reminder that life is forever moving forward with you in it, fully engaged in the process. It has even more meaning when the actions you take are the most selfless ones, as with Jim and Leslie Groves, who played an enormous role in making this magnificent monument a reality. They have been fully involved in the recognition, honor, and presentation of Honor and Remember Flags to Service Members who lost their lives in the line of duty and from all branches of the Armed Forces and from all wars. Their efforts have seen to it that The State of Ohio designates this flag for these very purposes. They have spun gold from their tragedy in countless ways for the good of their community, the Great State of Ohio, and the nation on a grand scale.

At the same time, there must be an interval for silence and solace. It takes time to heal from the blunt force bruises that have befallen you. Open the vault and give rise to them. Only when one breaks their own silence can one even begin the healing process. Give yourselves the freedom to be vulnerable, to wall off painful feelings when you need to, to put the pieces of your lives back together with the glue of those who love you and surround yourselves with those that do. Let them into your hearts and souls, even when you feel more like locking yourself away from the very world that pulled the rug out from under you. There is no roadmap or manual for being a Gold Star Family. Be open to the prospect that there is life outside of suffering and the possibility that there will be gratitude for the goodness of the people who you allow back into your life. Being to believe in possibilities and in lives that yield blooms. It may just be okay to welcome that knock at your door the next time around. 

What it means to serve and to sacrifice is equally shared with the families who sent their loved ones off to war. Every single time your Soldier, Marine, Sailor, or Airman walked out the door, you sacrificed. Every time their flights left the ground, their ships sailed, they loaded their rucks on their backs, and you had to say goodbye and they said they had to go, you did just that; time and time again (Testerman, 2016). Never forget that it is you that cast and shaped your fallen loved ones into the valiant and brave Service Members they became. It is because of this that they were propelled to serve so selflessly for causes far greater and more noble than themselves (Testerman, 2016). It is these virtues that you imparted and the pledge that good must always and necessarily triumph over evil that drove them forward. There is little that is more loving than that. 

May these words resonate powerfully for each of you. They were spoken by President James Garfield on the occasion of the very first celebration of Memorial Day, then referred to as Decoration Day, and delivered at Arlington Cemetery on 30 May 1868. “I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering works on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept; plighted faith may be broken; and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.” 

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women
in the service of our country can never be repaid.
They have earned our undying gratitude. America
will never forget their sacrifices.”
Harry S. Truman

 Never forget that those who gave their lives lived by the code of duty, honor, and country, not themselves. At the very least we owe the families of the fallen the very same allegiance they offered up to us as servants of our great nation, performing the most noble of deeds for a cause far greater than themselves, for their willingness to don the uniform in time of crisis and war, and for writing a blank check to the peoples of the United States of America, payable up to and including their very lives. There is no price too high that were unwilling to pay in service of our homeland, no struggle or privation that they failed to undertake. We Service Members were borne for toil and tribulation. This is the very best of what America has to offer, the most precious and priceless of our resources, both here and over there. There is an indelible debt of gratitude to be paid on both scores and on all counts. This is what we owe our Gold Star Families, who have sacrificed far too much to be cast aside. It is their loved ones that fought to safeguard and defend this great nation. The cost of freedom is an enormous and enduring one. We can ill afford to turn our backs on those who wear the gold star. It is ours to form the same sacred bonds that sustained us in time of war with the families our fallen and to embrace them.  Our endowment to them must be so much the greater. For our Gold Star Families, every day is Memorial Day. All gave some. Some gave all. With disregard for their own lives, these valiant American heroes gave their last full measure of devotion. We must never abandon those who gave their loved ones for the cause. It is time to truly become a grateful nation. Never forget. Never forget. 


  1.  Cordova, M. (2017, September 21). Behind the Gold Star: How to support, respect and honor the military’s most important families. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from  
  2.  Manion, R., Heffernan, A. L., & Kelly, H. (2019). The knock at the door: Three gold star families bonded by grief and purpose. Center Street Hachette Book Group.  
  3. National Park Service – Department of the Interior. (2017, May). The Garfield Telegraph. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from  
  4. Steen, J. (2019, March 5). 3 Things Gold Star Families Want You to Know This Memorial Day. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from  
  5. Testerman, P. (2016, January 4). Gold Star Families of NH Speech. Virtue Based Leadership        Honor and Remember . Retrieved May 24, 2022, from  




Dr. Kathy Platoni has been a practicing clinical psychologist for 40 years and maintains her private practice in Centerville, Ohio. In service of her country and as an Army Reserve clinical psychologist, she has deployed on four occasions in time of war. Dr. Platoni served as commander of the 1972nd Medical Detachment (Combat Stress Control) at Guantanamo Bay Cuba from 2003-2004, where combat stress control became a critical element of the Joint Task Force mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in the Global War on Terrorism. Having volunteered to return to active duty within weeks of her redeployment from Joint Task Force-GTMO, Dr. Platoni deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, holding the position of Deputy Commander of Clinical Services for the 55th Medical Company (CSC) in Baghdad and seven subsequent locations, finally as Officer in Charge of Team Ar Ramadi, situated the seat of the insurgency and during times of intensive combat. At the invitation of the 3rd Brigade Commander, 3rd Infantry Division upon the conclusion of her tour of duty in the wartime theater, Dr. Platoni reported to the Home of the Infantry, Fort Benning, Georgia for an additional six-month mission in order to provide for the reintegration services of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment due to elevated numbers of psychological casualties among combat arms soldiers. Dr. Platoni was last deployed to the combat theater of Afghanistan from 2009 through late 2010 with the 467th Medical Detachment (Combat Stress Control) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, serving as Clinical Advisor for the medical detachment and Officer in Charge of Team Wilson, Kandahar Province, and Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan.  She was assigned to the 1493rd Medical Detachment (CSC) in Cary, North Carolina until the time of her retirement. As a survivor of the tragic Ft. Hood Massacre in November of 2009, she is an ardent activist for reconsideration of this shooting incident as an act of terrorism to assure that the wounded and the families of the deceased are awarded long overdue benefits and was very instrumental in the awarding of  the Purple Heart Medal to the Fort Hood wounded and to the families of those who lost their lives on that tragic day. 

Dr. Platoni is a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges (BS, 1974), the University of Miami (MEd, 1975), and the School of Professional Psychology of Nova University (now Nova Southeastern University) in Davie, Florida (PsyD, 1985). Subsequent to the conclusion of her doctoral studies under the auspices of the United States Army’s Health Professionals Scholarship Program, she completed her internship on active-duty Army status at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas in 1984. From 1984 through 1987, she served as Chief of Psychology at DeWitt Army Community Hospital, Fort Belvoir, Virginia. During her more than three decades of both active and Army Reserve status, including a six-month tour of duty during Operation Desert Storm, Dr. Platoni developed combat stress control, debriefings and crisis management programs utilized throughout the U.S. Army. She held the position of Army Reserve Clinical Psychology Consultant to the Chief, Medical Service Corp (Chief Psychologist for the Army Reserve pro bono) for six years and is a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College. Dr. Platoni retired from the US Army with the rank of Colonel in October of 2013. 

Dr. Platoni maintains an appointment as Assistant Clinical Professor with the School of Professional Psychology, Wright State University. She is a skilled hypnotherapist and possesses expertise in the sub-specialty areas of behavioral medicine and the treatment of chronic pain and chronic, debilitating, and terminal illnesses. Due to her father’s exposure to radiation during the bombing of Nagasaki during World War II, she was born with congenital defects that have required extensive maxillofacial (bone) reconstructive and bone grafting procedures. No stranger to chronic pain herself, Dr. Platoni has undergone 60 major and minor surgeries over the course of the last 24 years to correct these defects, 18 of them with hypnosis as the sole anesthetic. Her last major plastic surgery was featured in a segment of ABC News “20/20” in 1999. She is in the process of completing a series of scholarly articles on this subject and has also published in a number of professional and lay journals on topics relating to Gulf War Syndrome, the psychological aftermath of the events of “9/11”, and professional/medical ethics. Two landmark books, written and edited by Dr. Raymond Scurfield and Dr. Platoni on the subject of war trauma, Expanding the Circle of Healing – Trauma in Its Wake and Healing War Trauma – A Handbook of Creative Approaches, were published in 2012.  She was awarded Diplomate status by the American Academy of Pain Management and was recently appointed Fellow of the American Institute of Stress and awarded distinguished membership in the Institute of Traumatic Stress 2013 Board of Scientific and Professional Advisors. In addition, Dr. Platoni holds professional memberships in the Ohio Psychological Association, the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, the Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, the Dayton Area Psychological Association, and International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. She has served in the position as Editor of the Combat Stress since 2014. 

Since the “9/11” tragedy and attacks on the United States, Dr. Platoni voluntarily deployed to New York City on two occasions in order to provide disaster mental health and critical incident stress debriefing services to members of the New York City Police Department. In 2017, she deployed to hurricane-ravaged Florida to provide disaster mental health services with the American Red Cross and in May and June of 2019, in support of tornado relief in the aftermath of 15 tornadoes that devastated the area of Southwest Ohio in which she resides. She currently serves as the Dayton Police Department SWAT psychologist and Mental Health Advisor to the Dayton Hostage Negotiation Team. 

As a nationally renowned expert in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dr. Platoni has been featured in Fox News, CNN, USA Today, Newsweek, US News and World Report, AP News, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Washington Post, NPR Radio, Stars and Stripes, San Antonio Express News, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, The Ohio Psychologist, the Wall Street Journal, TIME Magazine, Military Times, and The National Psychologist. 

For her professional contributions to the field of psychology and decades of humanitarian service, Dr. Platoni was awarded a lifetime achievement award by her alma mater, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in 2008 and was selected for the very prestigious Dayton’s Ten Top Women Award for the Class of 2012. She was awarded the Legacy Award for community service and volunteerism in the Southwest Ohio area in April of 2013. She was awarded the Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious service by the United States Army on 19 July 2014. Dr. Platoni was the recipient of the 2016 IVAT Returning Veterans Resiliency in Response to Trauma Award. This award is given by the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma (IVAT) to a veteran who has experienced specific trauma in war and whose efforts and advocacy have had a notably restorative impact on a traumatized population. Dr. Platoni was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in November of 2019 for her numerous contributions to the Veteran and law enforcement communities. In November of 2020, Dr. Platoni was a recipient of the Ford Oval of Honor Award, again, for now more than four decades of military and tireless community service. Honored once again by the Dayton, Ohio community, Dr. Platoni was selected as the recipient of the 2020, 2021, 2022 Best of Dayton Psychologists, this year entering her into the Dayton Business Hall of Fame. Dr. Platoni was inducted into the Greene County Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in April of 2022. 

COL Platoni was retired from the 4th Civil Support and Sustainment Brigade, Ohio Military Reserve, in September of 2021 after six years of dedicated service as the Brigade Psychologist, her 40th year of military service. 

Combat Stress Magazine

Combat Stress magazine is written with our military Service Members, Veterans, first responders, and their families in mind. We want all of our members and guests to find contentment in their lives by learning about stress management and finding what works best for each of them. Stress is unavoidable and comes in many shapes and sizes. It can even be considered a part of who we are. Being in a state of peaceful happiness may seem like a lofty goal but harnessing your stress in a positive way makes it obtainable. Serving in the military or being a police officer, firefighter or paramedic brings unique challenges and some extraordinarily bad days. The American Institute of Stress is dedicated to helping you, our Heroes and their families, cope with and heal your mind and body from the stress associated with your careers and sacrifices.

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