Photo by Caroline Julian

BY EDDIE KIM – Mary Jo Brostrom sat in the first row in the Governor’s Executive Chambers, smiling but with a tiny glimmer of tears in her eyes at the mention of her son, 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, who was killed on July 13, 2008 in a firefight in Waran, Afghanistan.

She was there on Tuesday, May 31, with her family and four other families to witness to the signing of a new law that creates the Gold Star Family license plate for parents, spouses, children and siblings of soldiers who died during military service.

“Simply, it honors families who have lost a loved one in the military.  No one wants one, of course, but this is another good way to preserve their memory,” Brostrom said.

Rep. K. Mark Takai (D-Aiea, Pearl City), who is in the military himself, introduced the bill and watched as it was signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie one day after Memorial Day.

Abercrombie spoke about the significance of memorializing the sacrifice of both soldiers and their families.  “This [license plate] gives us, the community, the opportunity to reflect – even if momentarily – on what is truly special, why give this plate the way it is, and what it means,” said Gov. Abercrombie.

Takai spoke about larger implications of an ostensibly simple and small bill.  “This bill is about people…a lot of people, in fact, unfortunately.  It’s actually a license plate that I don’t wish on any family. But those who have gone through the trials and tribulations of war and sacrifice, and for their loved ones who have given their lives, this is the least we can do as a society and a state to honor them.”  He added, “When we see these cars driving down the roads, we will know how special the people in those cars are.”

But for 1st Lt. Blake Brostrom, the brother of the late 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, the plate is more than a reminder to the rest of the community of a family’s sacrifice – it is also a signal of solidarity for other families who have lost loved ones in the military as well.  “It helps people to know that there’s someone going through this loss just like them, along with them,” he said.

Although the bill passed, Hawaii was the second to last state in the U.S. to release such a memorial license plate, with the only remaining state being Maine.  When asked about the timing, Mary Brostrom lightly grimaced, then softly chuckled, saying: “Well, as they say…better late than never.”

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Eddie Kim is a student at the University of Southern California, pursuing a B.A. in Print Journalism and Multimedia Studies. He is a news intern for Hawaii Reporter and can be contacted at kimes@usc.edu .