LITTLE CHUTE, Wis. (WFRV) Jennifer Kaas-Pogrant stares down at a flag in a display case with a plate that reads:
Brandon M. Van Asten; May 3rd, 1987 – July 15th, 2018
Brandon was her son who committed suicide at 31-years-old following his service with the Marines as a gunner, fighting overseas in Iraq. Enlisting at 18-years-old, he didn’t even tell his parents he was joining the military.
“He said, ‘mom it’s my country. This is my duty, I have to do this.’ I will never forget those words from him,” Jennifer said. “He loved his children, he loved his family, he loved his country.”
His mom says the things Brandon saw were unimaginable.
“He said ‘I killed mothers and I shot babies, and it was either shoot them or be shot,'” Jennifer explained.
Brandon got out of the Marines in 2009 and served in the reserves until 2013. He would be honorably discharged.
“Prior to war, he showed nothing as far as mental health [or] PTSD,” Jennifer said.
Brandon left behind two kids and four other siblings.
“It’s not about asking why but it’s asking ‘Lord, what is my purpose through this?'” Jennifer said.
She is now an advocate for Gold Star families who have gone through similar situations.
“I believe [that] is my mission on this earth, to be able to share how we survived,” Jennifer said. “It doesn’t take away the pain but it helps ease it, and it helps you connect to other people.”
Gold Star Mother’s Day is Sunday, September 29th. Wisconsin Blue Star Mothers Chapter 1 and American Legion Post 258 are hosting the Gold Star Luminary Initiative to honor families who have lost a loved one serving in the military.
The event is taking place at the Little Chute Windmill Plaza from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. Over 200 luminaries will be lit to honor the fallen heroes. The event is free and open to the public.
Jennifer is encouraging families who may be struggling with the loss of a service member to contact her at email@example.com or call (920) 716-9573.
She is also starting an organization called Warriors 99. She says it will be a referral source for veterans and families who may be struggling with their lives due to the military. Jennifer is hoping the group will come together to provide things such as flowers, gas cards for VA trips, and other generous donations to help lighten the burden for struggling families. She says based on her experiences, there’s no other organization that focuses on how families deal with the experiences of losing a loved one due to their military service.
You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or if you would like to join in on her efforts. Jennifer plans to get the organization up and running by November.