Gold Star Mother Sheryl Frost speaks to attendees at the Hero by Hero tree lighting ceremony at the Statehouse on Nov. 28. The tree honors fallen service members with the gold stars that hang from it. (Photos by Kate Robins/Carolina News and Reporter)

Gov. Henry McMaster and Gold Star Mothers gathered at South Carolina’s Statehouse on Tuesday to honor family members who gave their lives serving their country.

The group lit the Hero by Hero tree, decorated annually with American and South Carolina flags and multiple gold stars. Each star symbolizes a fallen soldier.

Gold Star Mother member Sheryl Frost spoke during a ceremony, saying families should not hesitate to reach out whenever they are struggling with the loss.

Gold Star Mothers was founded in 1928 after Grace Seibold lost her son in World War I. Seibold gathered with 25 other mothers to help families share their grief.

Now, the organization holds events and even has a national day in September dedicated to recognizing the mothers of those who have died while in service.

“Our fallen service members’ names and stories are a true testament to who they were and their moral compass that they chose to serve,” said Frost, who lost her son, a sergeant. “I wish there was something I could say to ease your pain. But I want to reassure you that you’re not alone.”

People across South Carolina and the nation don’t tend to think about those sacrifices made, McMaster said. Liberty “has been purchased with blood” throughout history, he said.

“We live in such abundance in such freedom that we don’t even realize how hard it was to get the way we are but not today,” McMaster said.

South Carolina, “a military state,” supports service members, and it’s important to take the time to honor them, he said. 

“Today we have not only honoring those who have taken that oath, made that decision and have committed their lives, but also their families,” McMaster said.

The tree helps keep in mind those who sacrificed their lives while also remembering their families, especially during the holidays, said South Carolina’s adjutant general, National Guard Maj. Gen. Van McCarty.

“To those who have lost loved ones in service to this great nation, that empty table or chair at the table, that voice, that smile is only in their heart and only in their memory,” McCarty said. “So as a state and as a nation, we have an obligation, and we will fulfill that obligation of remembering them.”

Gov. Henry McMaster looks toward Frost while speaking about remembering fallen service members.

S.C. Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, stands in front of the Hero by Hero tree while discussing the difficulty of the holidays for those who have lost a service member.