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What is a Gold Star military family?

The title can be traced back to World War I.
/ Source: TODAY

The death of a military service member in combat is a tragic and emotional time for all families and friends, and a loss that no loved one wants to endure.

The title given to families of military members who have died in the line of duty is “Gold Star Family.”

On June 23, 1936, Congress designated the last Sunday of September as Gold Star Mother’s Day. In 2011, President Barack Obama amended the observance to include Gold Star family members.

According to the United Service Organizations, a nonprofit that supports members of the United States Armed Forces and their families, "Gold Star Family" can be traced back to World War I.

"The phrase 'Gold Star Family,' dates back to World War I, when military families displayed service flags featuring a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the Armed Forces. The star’s color would be changed to gold if the family lost a loved one in the war, hence the term 'Gold Star Family'," the USO states on their website.

Service flags are regulated by the Department of Defense and the number of stars on a flag denotes the number of service members actively deployed.

The DOD specifies that immediate family members authorized to display a service flag include: spouses, parents, children, siblings, stepparents, step children, step siblings, half-siblings, adoptive parents, adopted children and adopted siblings of a United States service member.

While "Gold Star Family" refers to immediate next of kin, the grief following the loss of a service member is immense and can be felt throughout entire communities.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS — a national nonprofit organization that provides care and resources for anyone grieving the death of a military or veteran service member — was founded by Bonnie Carroll in 1994 after losing her husband Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll in an Army plane crash.

"We are there to embrace all those who are grieving a veteran loved one and to honor their life and their service," Carroll told TODAY Parents.

Carroll told TODAY that she founded TAPS to provide all of the dovetail support services that go beyond what the government is able to do for families.

"We don’t define their life by the moment or manner of death and we don’t differentiate the care and support and the love and the resources we provide based on that," she said of the organization. "It’s honoring a life that included service to this country."

Carroll recognized the need for additional support for families from her own loss

"Grief isn't a physical injury you can put a band-aid on. Grief is about love. We only grieve because we love," she said. "At TAPS, it’s really leaning into (the fact) that love doesn’t stop."