MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Traveling cross-country is an impressive feat which many people hope to accomplish and check off their “bucket list” at some point in their lives.
For Jennifer Marino, a retired Marine major, the list is now two checks shorter. From Aug. 10 to Oct. 25, she biked from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., stopping at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune on Oct. 22. Her ride wasn’t just for her though, she visited gold star families across the country along her journey.
Gold star families are families who suffered the loss of a relative in the armed forces. There are various programs available to those families to help aid and comfort them after such a loss.
Marino wanted to make a difference with these families and show them their lost ones aren’t forgotten. Her 17 state, 77 day journey was at times exhausting, but she found that it was worth the difficulty.
“The ride was a combination of my bucket list goal of riding across the country and connecting with the families,” Marino said. “I just wanted to learn about their heroes as I crossed the country. I wanted to share those stories with other people.”
Marino coordinated with the president of American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. about getting the word out that she was traveling from coast to coast and wanted to meet as many families as she could during her journey.
“I wrote up a letter explaining my intentions, and they thought it was a great idea,” Marino said. “Pretty soon I was getting responses, and gold stars were popping up all over my map. The hard part was planning a route to see all of them.”
She explained her motivation to support gold star families came from a mother who lost her son and said her biggest fear was that his memory would be forgotten by others. Marino made it her mission to make sure she helped that family and others along the way.
Marino sat down with more than 80 families across the country just to talk about their loved ones who lost their lives.
“I just wanted the families to tell me about their fallen heroes,” Marino said. “I wanted to learn who these people were and help keep their memories alive. I wanted to hear anything: memories from their childhood, when they got in trouble and any other funny stories.”
Marino said there is no better feeling than seeing families’ eyes light up when they recall memories of the past.
“The families don’t expect anyone to have the right words,” Marino said. “Nothing anyone can say will fix who has been lost. But sometimes, they just need a hug from someone. When they’re emotionally in a place where they can talk, ask them about the one they’re mourning. They love remembering the good times with their heroes.”