Gold Star plates new way to honor fallen family members

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Bob and Lucy Kassin will never forget their son Robert. In a few months, they’ll have a way to share his memory with the world.

The Kassins, who have been in Clovis since 1990, are awaiting New Mexico’s new gold star family license plate, created to honor surviving members of military personnel killed in war.

Army Sgt. Robert Kassin of Las Vegas, Nev., died July 16, 2006 in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Three years later, Bob Kassin said they are just now becoming aware of the American Gold Star Mothers. It’s an organization to honor and create a network of support for mothers who have lost a child serving in the U. S. Armed Forces.

They hope the new plates can help others get into the support network faster.

Lucy said she wants to start a local Gold Star Mothers group, but needs at least five members.

With the plates, she hopes she’ll be able to find enough members, either through locating others with the plate or educating eligible families.

“If they see it, it may push them to ask questions to get to know,” Lucy said. “It can also bond the families together.”

House Bill 164 allows the plates for “surviving mother, father, step-parent or spouse of a service member killed in an armed conflict with an enemy of the United States.”

Up to four family members of the deceased may have the plates. The first plate is free and the three plates thereafter require regular registration fees.

The plates are available in 35 states. New Mexico is among 10 others with legislation recently passed. Two more states have similar legislation in progress this year, according to goldstarmothers.com.

The bill passed on a 39-0 vote this year in the New Mexico Senate.

Rep. R.J. Berry, R-Albuquerque, who sponsored the legislation, said the main struggles with getting the bill passed dealt with fee waivers and who is counted as a family member.

Berry said he’s been working on the legislation for two sessions, but couldn’t get it through in 2008 because 30-day sessions deal mostly with budget issues.

He said most of the credit went to military advocates, who helped him draft the legislation, and Gold Star Mothers, who sat with him for hours waiting for the bill to come up in committee.

“It’s one of those things as a legislator you’re tickled to work on,” Berry said. “These families have given so much. If there’s any small thing we can do as legislators to honor them, I’m glad I could be a small part in that.”

Bob said the plates can be ordered June 19. But he expects to wait a few months. The plates are currently still being designed in collaboration with the state Department of Motor Vehicles and Gold Star Mothers in Albuquerque.

When the plates arrive, he’ll display the memory of his son proudly and actively look for other plates.

“You don’t know how to approach somebody who has been through this. It’s a way to see it and ask, ‘What’s that?’ and get an answer,” Bob said, “and (the surviving family) can make it as long or as short as they want.”