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New law to provide medal to families of Arizona’s fallen service members

The dogtag around Margy Bons’ neck bears a picture of her son, Marine Sgt. Michael Marzano.

Her office contains a shrine of sorts to him: his Marine Corps portrait, a picture of the day he received his sergeant’s stripes, a Marine Corps service medallion, a folded U.S. flag she received after he was killed in Iraq in 2005.

“You don’t want your child to be forgotten because you will never forget that pain of that knock on the door when they tell you you’ve lost your boy,” Bons said.

Under a law taking effect Sept. 30, Bons may soon receive an Arizona Gold Star Military Medal honoring her son’s sacrifice.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, the bill’s author, said he got the idea from Hawaii, which in 2005 created a medal of honor for its residents killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada and Alaska have started presenting similar medals.

“The primary reason is to give recognition to these fallen heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow citizens and their state,” Melvin said.

More than 100 Arizona residents have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The law will authorize the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services to award the medal but requires that no money from the state’s general fund go toward it. The money will come instead from the Veterans’ Donations Fund, which draws from fees for the Arizona Veterans License Plate, said David Hampton, a spokesman for the department.

“There are really few adequate methods of acknowledging the ultimate sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make on our behalf, and I think this bill, this medal, represents a way for the people and the state of Arizona to really recognize those sacrifices made by Arizonans,” Hampton said.

Melvin’s is one of six laws taking effect concerning the military and veteran’s affairs. Others will awarding honorary diplomas to war veterans who didn’t finish high school, allow active duty military members deployed overseas to cancel spa contracts and allow someone to receive a voter identification form with a military ID.

Melvin said he hopes the state will begin awarding the medals by the end of the year. He said the Arizona National Guard will have a contest to pick a design for the medal, but spokesman Maj. Paul Aguirre said Tuesday that the Guard had yet to be asked.

Dee Newman, whose son, Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Tully, died in Iraq in 2007, said the medal would be a wonderful gesture.

“It’s great news because it’s about time that somebody stands up and does something for the parents of those whose children have been sacrificed,” said Newman, Arizona chapter president of American Gold Star Mothers Inc.

However, Bons, president of Operation Homefront, a nonprofit organization that supports service members deployed overseas, said she’d rather not receive another item to remember her son by.

“Frankly, we receive a flag from the Capitol of Arizona the day we lose our child,” she said, “and I would rather have the money spent for our living, for our veterans, for our homeless, for anything that has to do with our military living than to have a knick-knack.”

Melvin noted that the program will be voluntary, so Bons is under no obligation to accept the medal.

“I think this is an opportunity for the state, a grateful state, to give thanks to her,” he said.

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