'Memorial Grove of Lights' provides radiant reminder of Louisiana soldiers' sacrifice

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
This new holiday light display in Louisiana Veterans Memorial Park honors Louisiana soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty.

A new holiday light display within the Louisiana Veterans Memorial Park on the State Capitol grounds is providing a radiant reminder of Louisiana soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

A corridor of trees illuminated by sparkling, bright white lights framing the Louisiana Capitol in the far background honors those who lost their lives in the line of duty and their Gold Star Families.

The U.S. Armed Forces Memorial Grove of Lights can seen now through Jan. 7, 2022 with the best view from 599 State Capitol Dr. at the entrance of the Louisiana Veterans Memorial Park facing the Governor’s Mansion.

“These men and women of all military branches who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedom that we all enjoy, have paid a tremendous price in doing so, and they deserve to be honored and remembered," Louisiana Gov. Edwards said in a statement. "We know that the holiday season can be a very difficult time for their families who have loved and supported them, which is why we wanted to find a special way to recognize their courage and service.

Edwards is a U.S. Army veteran and former ranger.

"As a veteran, I know that when a loved one makes the commitment to serve, their families serve right along with them. We owe them our gratitude and will keep them in our prayers." 

Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Joey Strickland, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is also a father of combat soldiers.

"I understand the sacrifice that families make daily when their loved ones are in harm’s way,” Strickland said. “I also understand how difficult it is, especially during the holidays, to carry the burden and memories of those who have been lost on the battlefield in service to our nation. (We pay) tribute to and honor those Gold Star Families, and we will keep them in our thoughts and prayers this holiday season.”

The tradition of the gold star began during World War I. During the war, a blue star was used on service flags and hung in homes and businesses to represent each living active-duty member. As service members were killed in combat, the gold star was superimposed on the blue star to honor the person for their ultimate sacrifice to the country. Eventually, the mothers of those fallen service members became known as Gold Star Mothers, and their families Gold Star Families.

The Louisiana Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in the Louisiana Veterans Memorial Park honors Gold Star Families, preserves the memory of the fallen and stands as a stark reminder that freedom is not free. The memorial is the first of its kind in the nation to be placed on State Capitol grounds. 

Last month on Veterans Day Edwards and Strickland also dedicated a Never Forget Garden in the park in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The garden in the Veterans Memorial Park is a statewide volunteer project by Louisiana members of the American Rose Society, the Louisiana Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Louisiana Garden Club Federation.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.