Veterans Day Message from a Gold Star Son
Author: Nathaniel Lee
I am Major Nathaniel Lee, United States Space Force, and I am also the Gold Star son of U.S. Army Captain Donnie Lee.
My dad was killed in an aviation accident in 1997, when I was seven years old. After he died, we moved from Texas where we had been stationed to California where my mom was from, losing our connection to the military community we had known and loved. It was during that time that my mom found TAPS; and in 1999, my mom, brother, and I flew to Washington, D.C., for the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp. It was there, for the first time, I felt like I could truly honor my dad’s legacy and tell his story.
Today, I am honored to give back to TAPS by serving as a Legacy Mentor and Group Leader in the TAPS Good Grief Camp, paying forward the life changing gifts I was given by this incredible community way back during the earliest days of my grief journey. Every time I volunteer with TAPS, I feel so privileged to be able to help other kids who are going through their own version of what I went through—to support them and show them a positive example of what their future can be like, even after experiencing a traumatic loss of a loved one. I am also proud to now have a spouse and children of my own and to serve in our nation’s newest military service— The United States Space Force.
Veteran’s day has special meaning for my family: both of my parents are veterans, and I serve too. In both the TAPS community and the military community, I try every day to give back some small piece of the help and opportunities that these two groups have given to me. I strive every day to honor my dad’s legacy of service, both in my military uniform and in my TAPS shirt. I hope, and think, that I am making him proud.
My advice for any other survivor would be that serving others is the most important way you can honor the legacy of the military loved ones you have lost, and that service can come in many different forms. For me, it is as a father, husband, military officer, and how I live my life with the many other elements of my personal identity. For you, it can be anything, so long as you are making a positive impact on your community and those around you. Wherever you are, in whatever you can do, I promise that you are able to serve in a way that they would be proud of too.
Thank You, Nathaniel!
Nathaniel Lee was the 2020 Recipient of TAPS Senator Ted Stevens Leadership Award and, over the years, has been an inspiration to the TAPS community for the way he carries on his father’s legacy.
“I still grieve the loss of my father in my own way,” Nathaniel wrote for TAPS in 2017. “I keep his flight suit patch in my office and his monogrammed pen in my pocket as constant reminders of not only his service and our family’s sacrifice, but the incredible responsibility of service members everywhere.”
This Veterans Day, we want to thank Nathaniel and all those within the TAPS community who have and are currently serving in the United States Military. We could not do what we do without you.
Get Involved with TAPS
Interested in carrying on your loved one’s legacy of service? There are many ways to do so within the TAPS Community.
Become A TAPS Peer Mentor: TAPS Peer Mentors are survivors who are ready to become a supportive companion to other survivors along their grief journey. If you are at least 18 months beyond your loss and have the ability and time and compassion to open your heart to other survivors, apply to become a TAPS Peer Mentor.
Become a TAPS Legacy Mentor: TAPS Legacy Mentors are military survivors who have graduated from TAPS Good Grief Camp and are ready to support younger survivors along their grief journey. By volunteering as a Legacy Mentor, you’ll be a source of hope for a TAPS kid, along with actively guiding them through Good Grief Camp at regional and national seminars. Register to become a Legacy Mentor.
Become a TAPS Volunteer: Volunteerism is at the very foundation of TAPS and every program at our organization benefits from and needs the support of our generous and caring volunteers. From projects to events, volunteers are needed year round to support the TAPS mission. Learn more and sign up for upcoming volunteer opportunities.
Major Nathaniel Lee, U.S. Space Force, is the surviving son of U.S. Army Captain Donald Lee.
Photos: Nathaniel Lee and TAPS Archives