This article was originally written Jim Shilander by and appeared on San Clemente Times.
While all military families must make sacrifices while their loved ones are away at service, none give up more than Gold Star families—those who are unable to welcome their loved ones home and have to endure, forever, the pain of their loss.
For San Clemente’s Jim and Carla Hogan, who lost their son, Lance Cpl. Donald J. Hogan on Aug. 26, 2009, that pain and grief turned into something that made an impact on soldiers around the world, just as their son’s heroic actions that day in Helmand Province earned him the Marine Corps’ highest honor, the Navy Cross, when he saved members of his squad from a blast from an improvised explosive device.
And though that effort came to a symbolic end Friday at Camp Pendleton, the Hogan family’s efforts to help the brotherhood their son joined when he became a Marine, did not.
Since May 2011, the Hogan family has been sending socks to Marines, beginning with their son’s unit, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. Their son had written to his parents often asking them to send socks during his deployment, due to the canals and irrigation systems that members of the unit had to regularly traverse. Today, the couple has sent more than 330,000 pairs of socks to Marines and allies.
1st Marine Division, Maj. Gen. Larry D. Nicholson said in his time in Afghanistan, he was receiving shipments of thousands of socks every week.
“There was not a Marine, sailor, soldier, Afghan, French Mongolian, there was not a NATO soldier in Kabul that was not wearing your socks at some point,” Nicholson told the Hogans. “You’ve turned a simple program that honors your son into one that honors our nation.”
Nicholson said he made sure that every soldier who received the socks also learned about the actions of Donald Hogan, no matter what country they were from. He also made it a point to inform President Barack Obama about the program when he visited Camp Pendleton last year, leading to a conversation about the program between the president and the Hogans.
Friday, that Hogans made “final delivery” of socks to Nicholson at the division’s Camp Pendleton headquarters. With the drawdown of troops from the country, the Socks for Heroes campaign is also slowing down, though the Hogans said the deliveries will still be made to units, including American allies, who will remain in Afghanistan, as well as potential future needs elsewhere.
This “delivery” was also a little more personal. Two formations of Marines took socks from the box and personally thanked the Hogans for their gift.
“It means a lot, because these are the guys we make the effort for,” Carla Hogan said. “To hear them say thank you and show us that kind of respect, these are the people we respect more than anyone else on earth. It’s very touching that they would take the time to remember us.”
Nicholson told the assembled Marines that the Hogans’ sacrifice was one that should be respected.
“I don’t know if any of us, other than the Hogans, can really imagine what it’s like to lose a loved one in war,” Nicholson told the Marines. “You can say ‘I know what it must feel like,’ but you can’t. It’s not possible, unless you’ve lost a loved one in war, you can’t imagine the pain that causes you.”
The San Clemente Marine Support Group, the organization founded by the Hogans that includes the sock program, has taken on other duties. The group helps to fund a scholarship program to allow Marine families to utilize city recreation services and classes, in partnership with the city. Carla said the group would also be moving into family support on base.
“The Marines are well trained and well taken care of, but the families have some needs that we may be able to fill,” she said.
Jim Hogan said the organization is also going to work at increasing the ability for comrades to stay in touch following their deployment.
“One of the things we’re concerned about is the high rate of veteran suicide,” Hogan said. “”Our son deployed in 2009, and since then, 20 kids from that battalion have taken their own lives, which is 500 percent over what they actually lost in combat. We’re trying to come up with a way to build a national registry so that Marines can register by unit and can contact each other to prevent that.”
Jim Hogan said the city’s support has been instrumental to the organization.
“The 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines and San Clemente relationship is really a model that other cities should be envious of,” he said. “When they deployed to Afghanistan they received six containers full of mail right after Christmas.”