JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — “Chief, don’t let my son die twice. He died the day he lost his life but he’ll die again the day you forget him,” said a Gold Star mother to U.S. Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
Gold Star, a title no one wants, identifies the surviving family members of a U.S. military service member who died defending the United States.
Sandy Bohling, a Gold Star mother who lost her son, Matthew H. Bohling, Sept. 5, 2005, smiled as she shared fond memories of her son.
“Matthew was a fun-loving kid, and he made friends easily,” said Sandy, a learning and development training specialist with Southcentral Foundation.
“He loved hunting, fishing and military history like his dad,” she said as she turned to look at Matthew’s father, Charles Bohling, a retired U.S. Army National Guard master sergeant. “Those two had a lot in common.”
Sandy remembers Matthew expressed an interest in the military uniform at a young age.
“That kid loved to dress up in military camo, especially on Halloween,” Sandy said, a native of South Dakota who settled with her husband in Eagle River, Alaska, to raise their family. “He liked his dad’s National Guard uniforms.”
Matthew discovered his calling to join the armed services in Navy ROTC at Chugiak High School.
“He took a very special pride when he put his ROTC uniform on,” Sandy said.
“Even though it was Navy ROTC,” Charles said with a laugh.
After high school, Matthew enlisted in the Army in August of 2001 and volunteered for his first tour in Iraq in 2003. He returned to Iraq for a second tour in 2005.
Sandy and Charles spent time with their son that August when he came home for leave, not knowing it was the last time they would see each other. Charles said he remembers driving his son back to the Anchorage airport, and from there Matthew connected with his unit in Fort Benning, Georgia, and returned to Iraq.
“On September fifth, Chuck and I had been camping,” Sandy said. “We got home that afternoon and had gone to bed. Next thing I know I wake up, it’s about 10 o’clock, Chuck is standing at the foot of the bed saying, ‘Sandy, wake up. I think something’s happened to Matt. There are two officers out in our living room.’”
Matthew Bohling, assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, died in Ramadi, Iraq, Sept. 5, 2005, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during combat operations.
“He was honorable, he loved his country,” Sandy said with tears in her eyes. “He knew going over there [to Iraq], death could be imminent.”
In a program through Southcentral Foundation, Sandy said she teaches a module on grieving a loss and shares her story about losing her son.
“Every time I tell the story, it gets a little easier and there’s a little more healing,” Sandy said.
The last Sunday of September is National Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day, a tribute to recognize and honor the immeasurable loss suffered by the surviving parents and families of those killed in action. This year, it falls on Sept. 29.