‘Gold Star’ Mom


Kim Harrison has a motto that helps her face each day, borrowed from Maya Angelou: “Having courage does not mean that we are unafraid. Having courage and showing courage mean we face our fears. We are able to say, ‘I have fallen, but I will get up.’”

A dedicated administrative specialist for the Department of History, Harrison lost her son Daniel in 2004 when he was killed in combat while serving in Iraq. Daniel served with the 293rd Military Police Company from the 3rd Infantry Division. Although his life was lost, he saved the lives of other soldiers on patrol that day.

“Losing a child is one of the most unnatural things someone can go through, but I couldn’t be more proud of Daniel’s bravery and courage,” says Harrison, who has served the history department for twenty years. “Without the support of the department, the college, and the university, I would not have made it through this tragedy.”

In light of her loss, Harrison has been able to use her experience to foster new relationships with other mothers who have lost sons or daughters in active duty. Today, she serves as president of the Volunteer Chapter of American Gold Star Mothers and coordinates fundraisers to help support veterans organizations like HonorAir Knoxville, A Soldier’s Child, and the Fisher House Foundation. She is also active in Rolling Thunder, an organization that works to bring home prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.

“Even though there are days when I don’t want to get out of bed because the grief is so bad, I have to remind myself that Daniel would want me to keep on living,” Harrison says.

Last year, Harrison took the “Leap of Faith” jump from an airplane with elite paratroopers of the 101st Airborne in honor of her son.

“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done,” she says. “Surprisingly, I wasn’t the least bit afraid.”

Her son’s death has also afforded Harrison the opportunity to connect with several UT students whom she would not have come in contact with otherwise. Since 2007, UT’s Department of Military Science/Army ROTC has hosted a Mountain Man Memorial March each spring to honor and remember fallen military men and women. Several students have marched in honor of Daniel, hiking 26.2 miles with weight on their backs through the mountains of Gatlinburg.

“My greatest fear is that his name will be forgotten,” says Harrison. But organizations such as UT’s Center for the Study of War and Society are ensuring that doesn’t happen. Harrison was able to work closely with Cynthia Tinker, associate coordinator of the center, as she researched names for the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated and officially unveiled on November 15, 2008. The memorial, located in World’s Fair Park, is a plaza of granite pillars bearing the names of 6,172 fallen heroes from thirty-five East Tennessee counties who died in military service from World War I to present-day conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One of those pillars bears Daniel’s name.

Although nothing can replace the son she lost, Harrison says she feels like she gained several additional sons since the tragedy. Many of Daniel’s army buddies still keep in touch with her and visit her, and some even call her “Mom.”

“Five children are appropriately named after Daniel,” Harrison says. “His life was full of camaraderie, kindness, and courage, and I can only hope to live a life that reflects and honors his.”

—By Sara Haywood (this article was first published in Higher Ground, April 23, 2013, an online publication of the University of Tennessee College of Arts & Sciences)
Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey