Fifty years ago, families in Connecticut hugged their sons, siblings and husbands for the final time. Expectations of reunions never came to pass, as their loved ones died in Vietnam. And when the sad news came, many cried in silence.

The growing unpopularity of the war made it difficult to share their grief or celebrate the lives of the heroes they had lost.

These families have now been given a voice. The Vietnam Gold Star Families 50th Commemoration Project, a new educational exhibit, will make its debut at the Trumbull Library this Friday, May 22, thanks to a grant by the Trumbull Rotary Club. It will be on display for the next month. The exhibit will then travel across the state, including stops at schools, libraries and a special two-day event at the Air National Guard Base in East Granby in July.

The “Gold Star” concept dates back to World War I, when families would place a gold star in their window to honor those who had died in combat. The project to honor Gold Star families from the Vietnam era started as an assignment in Professor Mary Collins’ nonfiction workshop class at Central Connecticut State University. Students interviewed family members and transformed these transcripts into powerful first-person essays. These co-authored stories shed light, often for the first time, on what our neighbors endured at the time and in the 50 years since the war. The project is a colloborative effort between the CCSU nonfiction writing seminar and the Veterans History Project.

Unlike other initiatives, the Gold Star exhibit does not focus on the men who died, but rather the people left behind.

“Few people understand what these families went through,” Collins notes. “Even at funerals, people came up to them saying, ‘Your son never should have gone.’ Not surprisingly, they’ve kept a lot to themselves over the years.”

These stories have now been told, honoring these families and their fallen heroes 50 years later. This compelling, six-panel traveling exhibit is open to the public at the Trumbull Library from May 22 through the end of June.

“This exhibit would not have been possible without Trumbull,” Collins explained. “Members of the Trumbull Rotary Club gave from the heart. They asked for nothing in return, it was so moving.”

In addition to personal donations made by individual members, the club provided a $5,000 grant to help create the exhibition.

“We do everything we can to honor veterans and their families,” noted Karen DelVecchio, president of the Trumbull Rotary Club. “Our club motto is ‘service above self,’ and these heroes who serve our country exemplify that.”

In addition to this grant, the Trumbull Rotary volunteers and supports Wounded Warriors, Homes for the Brave and served as the founding sponsor of Habitat for Heroes, a program launched by Habitat for Humanity that builds homes for returning veterans in our community.

This educational exhibit is a great way for neighbors, families and individuals to learn more about those who served our country in Vietnam and pay tribute to their lives, according to the Rotary. For more information about the Vietnam Gold Star Families 50th Commemoration Project, contact Mary Collins at collinsmae@ccsu.edu or 860-817-0131.