Remembering, honoring our fallen 'pals'

Jan Garrison

Carlstrom speaks at Gold Star


June 4, 2021

Capt. Adam Carlstrom ’90 (U.S. Navy, retired) remembers this time of year on the Culver Academies campus. It is a time when your thoughts begin to turn to summer. But it is also the time when everyone on campus honors all those “for whom we raise the Gold Star.”

Carlstrom told the students attending the Gold Star ceremony at Memorial Chapel he remembers when he addressed his fellow students. He talked about the importance of honor, one of the Culver values. He quoted one of his favorite movies at the time, “Young Guns.”

Billy the Kid says “See, you get three or four good pals, then you’ve got yourself a tribe, and there ain’t nothing stronger than that.” Pals share the same values and dedication to a common purpose. With that, anything can be accomplished.

He has spent much of his life dedicated to that pursuit, Carlstrom said. “I would join the ranks of millions of my pals,” including his friend and classmate Head of Schools Doug Bird, in sharing that “one common principle” of defending the Constitution and country against all enemies.

Carlstrom now serves as the director of Strategic Mission Systems at the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska. Prior to joining NSRI, his deployments included Operations Southern Watch, Allied Force, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and Odyssey Dawn. He has also accumulated over 3,000 flight hours. His personal decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal (Individual & 6 Strike/Flight) and various personal, campaign, and unit awards.

Now, 31 years after graduating from Culver, he feels “a constant ache in my soul” when he remembers those who have died serving their country, including his friends “who are gone, but not forgotten.” Best expressed by John 15:13 (“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”), the United States is built and protected by this service and sacrifice, Carlstrom said. And we honor those men and women who “wrote a blank check” to the people of the United States, payable in any amount up to and including their lives.


Hanging a wreath on a Gold Star flag.


Carlstrom told the students about a photo of an 86-year-old World War I veteran holding a flag at the 1982 dedication of Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The flag was for his son, who had been killed in the Korean War. It is a stark reminder of why we honor our fallen veterans, he said. It also a reminder of another element that is “often under recognized and articulated well.”

This “warrior ethos” is not lived just by the people serving, it is also lived by their families. Symbolized best in the story of King Leonidas of Sparta, Carlstrom said when the king chose the 300 men for the Battle of Thermopylae he took into consideration how believed their families would handle their deaths. Knowing the toll would be great, he chose those men whose families possessed “the same patriotic duty” of the men going off to battle.

The mothers, fathers, spouses and children all carry that burden long after the war has ended on the battlefield, Carlstrom explained. He thinks of that when taps is playing. While at Culver, he has “felt the ghosts” of those who have died. We hear about their service and we need to preserve that legacy for future generations.

“The watch is not permanent,” Carlstrom said. “It must be continually reinforced.”

After commencement, some of the graduates will pay their respects by joining the ranks of the warriors. But everyone should pay their respects in “their own unique way,” he added. “Your support of our pals, who paid the highest price,” is recognized by the significance of the Gold Stars.

The ceremony is consistent with the values of the Culver family, he said, “and I’m so proud to be one of the sons.”

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