More than 160 family members of service members killed in recent wars are expected in the Tri-Cities this weekend for A Time of Remembrance.
The families will start gathering Saturday to begin sharing memories, said Shirley Schmunk of Richland, whose son, Army National Guard Spc. Jeremiah Schmunk, 20, died July 9, 2004, in Iraq.
The weekend will culminate with the eighth annual ceremony honoring those lost in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere at 11 a.m. Sunday at Flat Top Park in West Richland.
Some of the families, who come from places as far away as Caldwell, Idaho, and Eugene, Ore., lost relatives recently, while others have been dealing with loss for more than a decade. Schmunk said it's hard to see new families come in, but getting together is helpful.
"It means a lot," Schmunk said. "I remember how important it was to be able to share with those who understood what I was going through. We need each other and that's all there is to it."
The Gold Star families will have their first candlelight vigil, which is open to the public, at 7:30 p.m. today at the Regional Veterans Memorial in Columbia Park in Kennewick. They planned to have one last year, but bad weather forced them inside.
"This year they promised us beautiful skies and beautiful weather," Schmunk said.
Sunday's ceremony in West Richland, which drew hundreds in 2013, will feature a performance from members of the Yakama Nation in full regalia, Schmunk said. Then the audience will hear from guest speaker Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, deputy commanding general of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Dahl served as deputy commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division from 2010-12 in Afghanistan, according to the base's website. He then returned as United States Forces Afghanistan deputy commanding general and commander.
Dahl was tabbed earlier this year to lead an inquiry on Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who left his post in Afghanistan and was held by the Taliban for five years before being released in May.
The Gold Star families will be able to enjoy each other's company and participate in other activities during the weekend. Twenty-five boats have been donated for fishing, and a train will take kids along the trails in Columbia Park, Schmunk said.
"We're going to keep all of them really, really busy," she said.
They will also take part in sessions to assist them with coping with their losses.
"This is one place where someone can come and cry and nobody tells them to stop it," Schmunk said. "Nobody says, 'Get over it.' "
Time of Remembrance is still seeking donations. Schmunk said $250 will sponsor a family for their entire weekend in the Tri-Cities. If the money arrives too late, it can be used in 2015. To donate, call Schmunk at 509-750-5687.
You can go to www.timeof remembrance.org for more information.
Organizers considered moving Time of Remembrance to the coast a few years ago, but the families wouldn't stand for it, Schmunk said. They love the weather and how easy it is to get around the Mid-Columbia.
"We want to thank our community for keeping your arms and hearts open for families coming in," she said.