Rockland honors Gold Star families with ceremony

Rockland County on Friday held its first-ever ceremony for Gold Star Recognition Day.
The national day occurs the last Sunday in every September to honor families of fallen veterans.
Manny Lopez, of Haverstraw, was just 20 years old when he was killed by a grenade in 2005 while serving in Iraq. He was the first Rockland veteran to lose his life in the Iraq War -- and his mother, Yolanda Hatala, has never forgotten it.

“After that my whole world changed. My whole world,” says Hatala. “That grenade hit me. It hit my heart. It exploded it.”

But 14 years later, Hatala is slowly starting to piece her broken heart back together again, with the support of friends, family and others. For Hatala, it's not about the wreath or the recognition, but the opportunity to talk about her son and meet other families of fallen service members.

“I can walk with them. They're walking in my shoes. They truly understand me,” says Hatala.

Susan Branam, of the Rockland Veteran Services Agency, organized the event.

“They deal with this loss every day,” said Branam. “And it's just important to let them know that we're taking a minute to pause and recognize them.”
“My mission is that they never forget my son,” said Hatala. “I could be 90 years old - they're not going to forget my son.”