‘He gave so much to be proud of’

June 03–Watch for a pair of familiar faces in news footage Monday from President Donald Trump’s second annual reception for Gold Star families — relatives of U.S. military members who died serving the nation. Superior’s Bruce and Sue Vrooman, whose son, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Vrooman, died serving in Iraq, are among the 50 families invited to the event.

“I’m just as excited to meet Melania and the rest of the families as the president,” Sue Vrooman said.

It’s their second trip to Washington, D.C. this spring. The couple was also given front-row seats to the May 18 retirement review of former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. They were across the aisle from presidential advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

“We were there because of Jeremy,” Bruce Vrooman said. “Jeremy was the guest of honor at McMaster’s retirement.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley opened his speech with a nod to the family. Lt. Gen. McMaster himself closed with a reminder of the fallen, including Chief of Staff John Kelly’s son and Jeremy.

“When you see how your son impacted so many lives, it’s overwhelming and amazing,” Bruce Vrooman said. “The brass do care. I’ve met quite a few of them.”

McMaster was Staff Sgt. Vrooman’s first battalion commander and they served together for years, both stateside and overseas.

Sue Vrooman said Jeremy patterned his military career after McMaster’s. When the retiring general told them after the ceremony that Staff Sgt. Vrooman was the best cavalryman ever, it meant a lot. The Superior couple said McMaster spent so much time talking to them that Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary, just waved and moved on.

“As a parent, you put your child on a pedestal,” Bruce Vrooman said. “To have others put him on a higher pedestal …”

Their trip included a stop by the office of South Dakota Sen. John Thune. As they passed by the Senate dining hall and gift shop, they said hello to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

The couple has been invited to take a private tour of the White House when they return to Washington, D.C. this weekend. They hope to find the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and plan to visit the 11 Wisconsin soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where they will place a white rose on each grave.

“I do wish all Gold Star families could get these experiences,” Bruce Vrooman said. “Everyone’s pain is the same.”

To outlive a child leaves a lasting pain, he said, whether that child was serving overseas or killed in a car accident. There is no getting over it.

“You learn to live with the loss,” Bruce Vrooman said.

Memorials are set up for those who died serving their country. Other families who lost children may not have that option, and that reminder.

Memorial Day weekend was sandwiched between the couple’s star-studded trips. In a way, they said, they’ll celebrate Memorial Day three times this year because of their son.

“It’s wonderful,” Sue Vrooman said. “He’s not forgotten. That’s the thing with Gold Star families — you don’t want to see them forgotten.”

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Vrooman’s list of medals, ribbons and awards includes the Purple Heart. Topping the list is one his parents worked two years to secure: the Bronze Star for Valor, for saving the lives of 59 fellow soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Vrooman and his squadron were clearing a brick factory complex on the outskirts of Kn’an, Iraq, on July 15, 2008. His team of three entered the first of 20 buildings and encountered an improvised explosive device. The explosion buried Jeremy. He was pulled from the rubble and flown to Baghdad for surgery, but died from his injuries.

After the explosion, a bomb-sniffing dog was brought in and detected explosives in each one of the buildings. All 59 of the others tasked with clearing the brick factory survived.

“If you see the emails from the guys who served with him, they want to hear his name,” Bruce Vrooman said. “They know he saved their lives.”

Whether their son receives any more medals for his service remains to be seen.

“He has something that means more to me: the love and respect of H.R. McMaster,” Bruce Vrooman said. “He gave so much to be proud of.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.