Jim Crigler, a Vietnam veteran and former helicopter pilot, is paddling the entire length of the Mississippi River in a canoe for one purpose: to spotlight Gold Star Families.
“This was not on my bucket list of things to do,” Crigler, 67, told CBS Radio’s Connecting Vets.
In May of 1972, Crigler met his first Gold Star Family when he escorted the remains of their son 1LT Thomas Francis Shaw, who was killed in action in Vietnam.
“Tom and I had an in-check agreement that if one of us was killed in action, that the other would do everything they could to escort the body back and comfort the family,” Crigler said.
“Forty-five years ago was the first time I met a Vietnam Gold Star Family and it was the toughest mission, believe me, that I had during that war.”
It was that experience and getting to know the Shaw family after their loss that inspired Crigler to advocate for Gold Star Families.
“Imagine your 18 or 19-year-old son is drafted and sent off to fight a war on foreign soil,” Crigler said.
“Now imagine that he comes back home to you in a coffin six months later. Your government gives him a brief military burial, gives you a flag, and a few of your relatives treat you to breakfast … And that is it. You go home devastated. There is no recognition, no support network. And no one ever talks about it again.”
This scenario is real for many military families.
“That is not the honor that those families deserve,” Crigler said. “The reason I’m going down this river is… I want to start a movement in America.
“I would like normal, American citizens to look up a Gold Star Family in their community … and write them a thank you note, thanking them for that sacrifice. It doesn’t have to be much but as Americans, it’s got to be something.”
To donate and follow along with Crigler’s journey please visit the Mission of Honor website.