Kentuckians dedicated to remembering those who sacrificed everything in wars

Army PFC Dustin Gross died in Afghanistan last May, a year after graduating from Montgomery County High School.
Army PFC Dustin Gross died in Afghanistan last May, a year after graduating from Montgomery County High School.

On Thursday night, TV commentator Nancy Grace featured the late Army PFC Dustin Gross of Montgomery County in her show's regular tribute to a fallen soldier.

Grace described Dustin, 19, who died May 7 when a bomb exploded in Afghanistan, as a hero.

Dustin's aunt Tracy Brown said she contacted the show for the same reason that she and his mother, Angie Brown, are participating with the Montgomery County High Jr. ROTC in Operation Dustin Gross, a care package project for soldiers.

"I don't want anyone to forget him," Tracy Brown said.

Other families across Kentucky whose relatives have died fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan say they look for ways to honor fallen military members, so they won't be forgotten.

Sunday is Gold Star Mother's Day in the United States, said Stella Maynard, the president of the Kentucky Chapter of Gold Star Mothers, which brings together mothers whose children died serving in war or conflict in the military.

Maynard said that while her chapter isn't having a specific event, observing the day is important. She estimates that more than 100 Kentucky natives have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Retired Lexington police officer Tricia Langley's son Marine Lance Cpl. Sean Michael Langley died Nov. 7, 2004, after being injured the previous day near Ramadi, Iraq.

In August, Langley and Cathy Comley went to a memorial walk off Harrodsburg Road called Run for the Fallen. Comley's son Marine Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, 21, died Aug. 6, 2005 at Al Amiriyah, Iraq.

"This event provides an opportunity for us to come together every year," Langley said, referring to other families whose loved ones died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

At the walk, Langley shared a story with Comley about Langley's son's last hours that she said brought her comfort.

A neurosurgeon told her that when it became clear that Sean Langley would not live, the surgical team trying to save him put a warm blanket on him and dimmed the lights. They surrounded him, holding each others' hands and Sean's, she said. Then they said a prayer.

"There's a depth of understanding that you don't just share with anybody," Langley said in an interview after relaying the story to Comley.

The walk in Lexington was created in 2008 by Jonathan Koshy, then a 16-year-old Dunbar High School student who was concerned about the lack of attention for fallen heroes.

Jonathan's brother Joshua, 17, is now leading the annual event.

Joshua Koshy, along with his parents, George and Shannon Koshy, hold the event for families of those who died "just so that they know that there are more people out there who care to show how much we appreciate what the fallen service members are doing for our country," Joshua Koshy said.

Comley said the walk showed her that "there are people who do care what our sons and daughters have done."

Angie Brown, whose son Dustin Gross died 42 days after being deployed, said she gets similar satisfaction while working on the care package project at Montgomery County High.

A Facebook page that honors him and the project had 1,015 members Friday.

Along with food items and toiletries, Angie Brown puts a hand-signed letter in each package.

"It's just to be able to support all the men and women that are out there deployed," she said.

Langley, too, said she intends to help "those who are returning and yet still struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome, to find a job or just struggling to re-establish themselves in a very different culture from the military."

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