Mike Winecoff, Hometown News

April 5 is Gold Star Wives Day, also known in recent years as Gold Star Spouses Day. It is a day to honor the spouses of those killed in action.

This year, the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation (Fallen Patriots) has chosen to honor Sebastian resident Laura Youngblood.

Emma Youngblood and Fallen Father Travis Youngblood

According to the CFPF, based in Reston, Virginia, 97 percent of those killed in action are men, so that organization continues to use the name Gold Star Wives Day. The Department of the Army now observes Gold Star Spouses Day.

To those helped, like Sebastian’s Laura Youngblood, the name of the event doesn’t matter. What matters is that groups like the CFPF are helping send her children to college.

“All Travis and I ever wanted is for our kids to have a better life and an easier life than we had,” Ms. Youngblood told Hometown News. “Like every parent does.”

Laura met her husband Travis in the military, where both were combat medics. They got married in the service. After five years of active duty, Laura and Travis decided that Laura should stay at home with their three year old son, Hunter.

But Laura got recalled in 2005, for active duty in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. Unknown to her, Travis volunteered to take her place.

 “They sent a letter to where we were stationed, and Travis got the mail and opened it. Without even telling me, he went and volunteered to take my place so I could stay home with our son.”

“He didn’t tell me about my orders to go to the reserve meeting for recall until after he signed up. After he made sure he was good to go instead, then he told me about it.”

When asked if she was angry with Travis for taking the decision out of her hands, Ms. Youngblood replied “Travis would always do anything that he could to protect me and our kid. We always tried to do what was best for the long term. What we did was always for the benefit of our kid. He didn’t want Hunter to be without me for that long. So I understood.”

During that deployment, Travis’ unit was hit by an IED. He died six days later, leaving Laura, who was eight months pregnant with their second child, and Hunter.

“We got pregnant the day he left,” Ms. Youngblood said. “He knew that one day we would go back to normal lives. And his normal life was his wife and kids.”

“In his last letter home, one of the lines he wrote was ‘any day that I’m here can be the day that I die, and I’m willing to sacrifice my life to protect my brother in arms.’”

Travis was supposed to come home in about a month and a half when he died at age 26. Laura, also 26, was about eight months pregnant. Hunter was four.

“I never thought I’d be a widow at 26,” Ms. Youngblood said.

After Travis died, Laura realized there was no way she could send her children to college, as she and Travis dreamed. That’s where nonprofit organizations like Fallen Patriots come in. The group’s primary mission is to provide college scholarships to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty. The goal is to make sure every child of a fallen parent receives all necessary college funding.

“You would think that the benefits you get for serving your country and dying for your country are great, but they’re not,” Ms. Youngblood said. “We had to fight just to have dental for the kids. Everything that the children get, we’ve always had to fight for. I had to use all of my retirement money to raise my kids.”

Ms. Youngblood’s son Hunter is a senior in high school. Daughter Emma is in sixth grade.

“I never wanted them to get angry at their dad for dying,” Ms. Youngblood said.

Thanks to the scholarship help from Fallen Patriots, Hunter is probably going to Indian River State College.

“He wants to go into either internet security or zoology,” Ms. Youngblood explained. “If he went for a masters or a doctorate in zoology, which is his dream, he’d be in debt for the rest of his life without the help from Fallen Patriots. You want your kids to follow their dreams and be happy. And that’s all Travis ever wanted.”

Emma is 12 now. She was born two months after Travis died. She wants to be a scientist.

“Emma never got to hug her Daddy,” Ms. Youngblood said. “The only thing she ever got to hug was his tombstone. I tell her ‘Daddy made sure that you could go to school. People care that much that they’re willing to help your Daddy fulfill that goal of sending you to school.’ And that’s what Fallen Patriots are doing.”

Nearly 20,000 dependent children have been left behind by troops killed over the past 35 years. Most surviving spouses make less than $50,000 per year, which often means advanced education for the children is impossible.

“Even with benefits and other scholarships, the average gap per child is approximately $32,000 for four years of college,” Fallen Patriots says. “Eventually these children will need more than $500 million combined for college.” Fallen Patriots has granted over $20 million in scholarships.

“Travis and I often talked about how we wanted our children to go to college and have every opportunity that a quality education could provide them,” Ms. Youngblood said. “I can’t explain what a relief it is for our entire family to know that Fallen Patriots is willing to help us achieve this dream.”

The Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation is located at 1818 Library Street, Suite 500, Reston, VA 20190.

For more information, visit www.fallenpatriots.org or www.facebook.com/FallenPatriots, or call (866) 917-CFPF (2373).