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A Powerful Look At How Gold Star Families Mourn Their Fallen Kin
Photographer Inbal Abergil remembers her confusion the first time a friend invited her to the beach for Memorial Day, shortly after she immigrated to the U.S. in 2009. “I said, ‘But we’ll be going to ceremonies right? To pay our respects?’”
Abergil, 40, grew up in Jerusalem, and like the majority of Israeli citizens, she served in the Israel Defense Forces, working as a photographer for the air force. Back home, she says, Memorial Day is a solemn event. The 24-hour observance, which typically falls in early spring, begins with an air-raid siren — and the immediate suspension of all regular activity. People stop whatever they’re doing, conversations cease, drivers pull off the highway and leave their cars, standing at silent attention for a full minute. Entertainment venues are shuttered by law for the day. Radio stations throw out their usual playlists in favor of hymns and patriotic music. TV networks air special programming, including a 24-hour crawl of the name of every member of the armed forces killed in service to the nation and in the decades of intermittent strife that preceded its founding (23,544 at last count, plus some 3,112 residents killed in terror incidents). Ceremonies are held throughout the country, and prescribed bits of scripture are recited, including Psalm 144: "Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who traineth my hands for war and my fingers for battle."
In time, Abergil began to appreciate the difference between the two forms of observance — one by a small, tight-knit population that experiences war up close and has enforced conscription for more than six decades, and another by a nation that fights its wars in distant lands, relying on a volunteer force (less than .5% of the population) to do the dirty work.
The disparity, and her urge to understand it, inspired Abergil’s new book, N.O.K.: Next of Kin (Daylight Books), which focuses on the more private and personal forms of memorialization practiced by American Gold Star families, even as the country as a whole celebrates the advent of summer with cookouts and super sales. In a series of understated if devastating photographs and interviews, she examines the mementos, shrines, and other private forms of remembrance through which family members have quietly sought to honor their fallen kin: be it a government-issued pillow with a T-shirt pillow case, a camel plush toy, or a pair of elaborate sleeve tattoos.
Her eventual goal, she says, is to place the images in a museum collection, “something permanent, that will remain long after I am gone and the family members are gone, so the names of the loved ones won’t be forgotten.”
Here’s a sample of her work:
Inbal Abergil, CORTES, 2014
Pvt. Isaac T. Cortes, Killed in action, Nov. 27, 2007 Iraq.
“The two shirts and the pillow came back, so I kept this. And that's how I sleep with them I pretend that it's him. It's not him but I pretend.” — Emily Toro, mother
Inbal Abergil, HAGER, 2016
Staff Sgt. Joshua R. Hager, Army Ranger, killed in action Feb. 22, 2007 Iraq.
“Joshua’s drawing. With memories, it never gets better, it gets different. It’s never less clear it’s just as clear today as it was the day it happened.” — Kris Hager, father
Inbal Abergil, ORTEGA, 2016
HN William F. Ortega, Marine Expeditionary Force. Killed in action, June 18, 2010, Afghanistan.
“My dad says he doesn’t like going to that area in the living room … so he just comes through it.” — Edna Ortega, sister
Inbal Abergil, LAKE, 2014
Staff Sgt. Floyd E. Lake, Killed in action Jan. 20, 2007, Iraq.
“This was a Christmas gift from Iraq. My daughter has this stuffed animal like this. She doesn’t go anywhere without it… She calls him Camel. She said, “Mommy, that’s all I have left of Daddy.” Right now, it needs to be stitched up and she needs it to get stitched, but she doesn’t want anybody touching it.” — Linda Lake, wife
Inbal Abergil, BIRDWELL, 2015
Staff Sgt. Christopher J Birdwell, Killed in action, Aug. 27, 2012 Afghanistan.
“That's his uniform. I just didn't want to put it away and hang it in a closet. I wanted just to keep it out.” — Pam Birdwell, mother
Inbal Abergil, JOHNSON, 2017
Sgt. Donna R. Johnson, 514th Military Police Company, Killed in action, Oct. 1,2012 Afghanistan.
“It was 2010; I proposed, but under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” if you’re caught in a marriage, pretty much, you are automatically kicked out of the army. Neither one of us wanted to lose our careers or what we do—I mean, you serve because it’s part of your heart, you serve because it’s who you are and you want to do something for your community or for your brothers and sisters, so we didn’t want to lose that.” — Tracy Dice, wife
N.O.K.: Next of Kin is available November 14, via Amazon and other booksellers. On Thursday, November 9 at 7 p.m., Inbal Abergil will sign copies and participate in a discussion at the Bronx Documentary Center (free with RSVP).
Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials are warning soldiers and military families to be aware of scammers using the Exchange's logo.
In a news release Wednesday, Exchange officials said scammers using the name "Exchange Inc." have "fooled" soldiers and airmen to broker the sale of used cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats and boat engines.
KABUL (Reuters) - The Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility on Sunday for a suicide blast at a wedding reception in Afghanistan that killed 63 people, underlining the dangers the country faces even if the Taliban agrees a pact with the United States.
The Saturday night attack came as the Taliban and the United States try to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of U.S. forces in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government.
Islamic State fighters, who first appeared in Afghanistan in 2014 and have since made inroads in the east and north, are not involved in the talks. They are battling government and U.S.-led international forces and the Taliban.
The group, in a statement on the messaging website Telegram, claimed responsibility for the attack at a west Kabul wedding hall in a minority Shi'ite neighborhood, saying its bomber had been able to infiltrate the reception and detonate his explosives in the crowd of "infidels".
Calling aviation geeks in New York City: The British are coming.
In their first visit to the United States since 2008, the Royal Air Force "Red Arrows" will perform an aerial demonstration next week over the Hudson River, according to an Air Force news release. F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels demonstration teams will also be part of the show.
Frances and Efrain Santiago, natives of Puerto Rico, wanted to show their support last month for protesters back home seeking to oust the island's governor.
The couple flew the flag of Puerto Rico on the garage of their Kissimmee home. It ticked off the homeowners association.
Someone from the Rolling Hills Estates Homeowners Association left a letter at their home, citing a "flag violation" and warning: "Please rectify the listed violation or you may incur a fine."
Frances Santiago, 38, an Army veteran, demanded to know why.
A West Point graduate received a waiver from the U.S. Army to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday, and play in the NFL while serving as an active-duty soldier.
The waiver for 2nd Lt. Brett Toth was first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, who said that Toth signed a three-year deal with the Eagles. Toth graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2018.