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Remembering Gold Star families

The family of Michael Strange, along with Mickey Morandini
Parkwood Gold Star father Jim Kuhn, Charlie Strange
Gold Star father Glen “Corky” Stivison, Charlie Strange
Charlie Strange, Mark LaVelle

The Michael Strange Foundation last weekend held its 12th workshop for Gold Star families.

More than 30 families who lost a loved one in service to the country took part in a series of activities, all designed to continue to help in the healing process. All meals, travel and lodging are paid by the foundation.

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Strange, a cryptologist on SEAL Team 6, died in August 2011 when his helicopter was shot down by the Taliban in Afghanistan. In all, 30 Americans and eight Afghans were killed, along with a SEAL dog.

Strange, 25 when he died, grew up in Wissinoming and joined the Navy after graduating from North Catholic in 2004. A funeral Mass was celebrated at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Charlie Strange, Michael’s father, started the foundation, with the help of his wife Mary and others.

One of the weekend highlights took place Saturday at the recently renamed CTR1 Michael J. Strange Post 6617/Bustleton Memorial American Legion Post 810, at 9151 Old Newtown Road.

The event included food and music. Each family spoke of their lost loved one and received a trophy that included a gold star.

“Gold Star families are a national treasure,” said Pat Mudge, who served with Strange in the Navy.

Kevin McCarthy explained the history of the Star-Spangled Banner and led the crowd in the singing of the anthem.

Families in attendance lost their loved ones in a variety of ways, including combat, accidents, suicides and illnesses. They were described as loving God, family and country, with many inspired by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Their deaths were the worst days of their families’ lives.

Families thanked Charlie and Mary Strange for remembering them.

“This is a group nobody wants to be a part of,” Zelda Billingsley said of being a Gold Star mother. “But things like this really help.”

“I don’t want to be here, but I’m honored to be here,” said Heidi Hannah, who lost a son. “I’m super grateful to Mary and Charlie.”

Parkwood’s Jim Kuhn lost his son, Devin, in a 2018 training accident in Oregon. Devin Kuhn, a 2013 graduate of Archbishop Ryan, served in Afghanistan and was preparing for a second deployment.

“He’s loved and missed,” his dad said. “He was a great son.”

Among those in attendance were Municipal Court President Judge Pat Dugan, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; former Lt. Gov. Mike Stack; Phillies ambassador and former second baseman Mickey Morandini; and legislative candidate Mark LaVelle, a longtime foundation supporter who brought Stock’s pound cakes for the families.

Dugan, who married Charlie and Mary (and jokingly apologized to Mary), said that people who fought in World War II and worked toward the war effort are rightly known as the Greatest Generation. But he said those who fought in Korea and Vietnam and in the Global War on Terrorism deserve the same title.

“The torch has been passed,” he said.

Morandini, who autographed baseballs for the families, was moved.

“The stories that I just heard really touched me, that’s for sure,” he said. “God bless all of you and God bless the United States.”

Plaques of appreciation were given to motorcycle clubs Stars and Stripes Bars and Pipes, Hellraisers and Centurions for their support of the foundation and other military causes. ••

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