KENNEWICK -- This weekend's annual tribute to families and friends of Washington's "Fallen Warriors" has grown to include loved ones from four other states.
About 50 families have traveled to the Tri-Cities to take part in the fourth year of the Time of Remembrance, an event that recognizes soldiers who have died as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and provides an outlet for those left behind to meet with others who understand.
This is the first year that the statewide effort -- which culminates in a ceremony Sunday morning in West Richland -- has extended the welcome mat to families in Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii and Alaska.
And though Shirley Schmunk never wanted to be a part of this organization, the Kennewick woman is proud that the event has widened its reach to other grieving families and has garnered a legion of volunteers to help make it happen.
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"It makes me feel wonderful. ... It's awesome," said Schmunk, chairwoman of the remembrance committee and mother of a fallen soldier.
National Guard Spc. Jeremiah Schmunk, 20, was killed in July 2004 during an attack on his patrol near Baghdad.
Shirley Schmunk organized the first Time of Remembrance in 2007 after being inspired by similar national events. Organizers and state officials decided to keep the Washington event in the Tri-Cities because of its success the first year.
The last Sunday of September is Gold Star Mother's Day. A gold star mother is one who has lost a child in war.
The Time of Remembrance brings together loved ones to help them connect with others and work through the healing process, with private group activities and counseling sessions held today at a Richland hotel.
Schmunk said that earlier this week she took a call from a father who was worried it was too late to sign up. The man, who lost his son late last year, said he needed to be with people who understand and will support him, she said.
"It's important because it's hard to talk about, as far as trying to get the public to understand what all you go through, because the thing is that the soldier is gone but it's still in the news. It's still on TV. It is still there," Schmunk said of the global war on terrorism.
"And it's for the soldiers too. ... I can't say that it's OK, but I can say that the feeling of their knowing that their families will be watched out for after is important."
The remembrance honors soldiers who died in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, those who came home injured and later died and those who returned with post-traumatic stress disorder or other illnesses and took their own lives.
"Any of the soldiers that put on the uniform and took an oath and said, 'We will defend our country,' that is who we're honoring," said Schmunk, noting that in Washington alone that number is just over 400. "Some of the soldiers were over there four or five times and came home and just couldn't deal with it anymore. They've been over there so much they too deserve recognition."
The families will gather today for a 7 p.m. candlelight vigil at the Regional Veterans Memorial in Kennewick's Columbia Park. The public is encouraged by Schmunk to come support the families and show they haven't forgotten.
Sunday, a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. in West Richland's Flat Top Park.
Maj. Gen. Timothy J. Lowenberg, adjutant general of the state of Washington, is expected to speak.
Lowenberg is the commander of all Washington Army and Air National Guard forces, and director of the state's Emergency Management and Enhanced 911 programs. He also serves as homeland security adviser to Gov. Chris Gregoire and is the state administrative agent for all U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants awarded to local, state, tribal and nonprofit agencies and organizations.
The West Richland Chamber of Commerce is overseeing the Sunday ceremony. ACES, or American Citizens Encouraging Support, also helped coordinate the activities.
Both events are free.
" 'Time of Remembrance' wishes to extend their gratitude to the families who stood by our service men and women," Charlie Corbin, the chamber's executive assistant, wrote in a news release. "Each of the Fallen has left behind loved ones who carry a burden of grief. A gathering such as this demonstrates that they need not suffer their grief alone."
A golf tournament also was held Friday at Columbia Point Golf Course in Richland with at least 14 registered teams. Money raised went toward transportation and lodging costs for families who traveled to the Tri-Cities for this weekend's activities.
"We just have been so blessed with all of this going on," Schmunk said of participation and sponsorship in the tournament and other activities. "We're taking care of our families."
The committee has a website, timeofremembrance.org.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org