COLUMBIA, S.C. The holidays mean different things to different people. For some, it is a time of running around, hustling and bustling, shopping and caroling, hopping from one parade to the next party. For others, the holidays mean one less voice in the choir, one less present under the tree, one less place at the table.
On May 25, 2008, Sgt. David Lee Leimbach, 1st Battalion, 118th Infantry, South Carolina National Guard, was killed when his unit was attacked with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades while assisting in the recovery of a stolen vehicle. Although most of his unit returned home at the end of their deployment, Leimbach had volunteered to extend for six additional months and was assigned to 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry of the New York National Guard at the time of his death.
Thirty-eight South Carolina Gold Star families gathered alongside service-members, local performers, and members of Survivor Outreach Services at Stone River in West Columbia on Sunday for the sixth Annual Holiday Wishes event sponsored by Survivor Outreach Services.
Families came together to celebrate during the holiday season that can be both joyous and trying for those have known such deep loss – Leimbach’s wife was among those in attendance.
“It means a lot because it’s great to know my husband is remembered,” Dawn Leimbach said.
“The holidays are a hard time because I miss him, but it’s great to have a chance to come out and make new memories especially with people who understand what it’s like,” she said.
She added that her husband would probably be happy to see the recognition and support the other soldiers and their families are getting. “He wouldn’t necessarily like the attention for himself,” she said.
The Leimbachs were married for only five months when David was killed. They had wed while he was on leave. Dawn’s niece accompanied her to Sunday’s event.
“I think it’s good that people remember that our Soldiers fought for our freedom and died to give us that freedom,” her niece, Faith Barnwell said.
The family members weren’t the only ones moved by the celebration.
Arts Unlimited is a small ensemble of third- through fifth-graders from Saluda River Academy of the Arts in West Columbia that brought about 20 performers to help the families celebrate. The group has spent two months preparing and usually appear at five to seven performances per year, according to director, Gale McLeod.
McLeod was enthusiastic about participating in the event and acknowledged that without what the military does, kids may not even be able to get to do performances like this.
“People willing to serve our country gives our children these options,” she said.
Chloe Sturkie, a fifth-grader at Saluda River was thankful for the opportunity to be part of something she hoped would help make people feel happy.
“A lot of these people may not feel too good because their loved ones have died and they have to spend the holidays without them. It feels like I am helping them,” said Sturkie.
Columbia restaurant Blue Marlin provided the meal that families enjoyed while Arts Unlimited performed.
Emotions peaked when families hung ornaments honoring their fallen loved ones. Many paused to share how long it had been since their loss. One mother talked of how she knew her son was fishing somewhere with family members who had gone before him. Others quoted Scripture. Most shed tears.
All of these families from so many backgrounds, from so many different areas across South Carolina came together to share one thing none of them ever wished they would have in common – loved ones who were taken far too soon.
Many of the families worried more about others than themselves. Multiple moms told the group they were there for any support they could offer. Wives wished Merry Christmas and offered hopes of peace and comfort. One mother even offered a hug to every other mom in the room.
Barbara Livingston, wife of South Carolina National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston said the Sunday was a chance to give back to families who had given so much.
“We want them to know they are loved and supported by their military family,” she said. “We appreciate what their loved ones did for our country and they won’t be forgotten.”