PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Gold Star families in Fort Lee visited the Army Community Service Memorial Garden on Wednesday to honor their loved ones who lost their lives fighting for the country.

Carol Wittman lost her son in 2013 and is now dedicated to beautifying Fort Lee’s memorial garden ⁠— crafting a place to help other Gold Star families unite and commemorate the lives of their loved ones. Around 53 family members gathered at the garden for a special butterfly release ceremony on Wednesday, May 25. One by one, family members and supporters read the names of their deceased loved ones out loud.

Gold Star families at the Fort Lee Army Community Service Memorial Garden on Wednesday. (Credit: 8News WRIC)

“A person dies twice ⁠— once when they take their final breath and later ⁠— the last time their name is spoken. And that’s why this event is so important, it allows our community to see faces and hear each name,” a spokesperson for the Fort Lee Butterfly Release Ceremony said.

After each supporter received the chance to address the name of their loved one, the group released colorful butterflies into the sky.

“[A butterfly] represents a spiritual lift that people can relate to, and that you go on, you spread your wings and you keep on going,” Wittman said.

Gold Star families at the Fort Lee Army Community Service Memorial Garden on Wednesday. (Credit: 8News WRIC)
Gold Star families at the Fort Lee Army Community Service Memorial Garden on Wednesday. (Credit: 8News WRIC)

As family members watched their butterflies circle the garden ⁠— stopping to rest on portraits, flowers and even people ⁠— Wittman smiled, remembering her son Aaron and the joy his memory will always bring her and her family.

“Our loved ones would not want us to be deep in our sorrows year after year, never progressing,” Wittman said. “They want to see that their sacrifice was not in vain, and we can go on, we can be stronger and let people know what this country is all about.”