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  • Writer's pictureTracy Jones

My Gold Star Story

On February 18th, 1969, my father was killed in action during the Vietnam War. I am a Gold Star Child, and this is my Gold Star Story.


The Prince, The Princess, and the Frog

Mark and Betty Jones

My name is Tracy Marleen Jones, the only child of Marlin Mark Jones, Jr. On February 18th, 1969, my father Mark was killed in action during the Vietnam War. I am a Gold Star Child, but I was not born one.

My father and mother were only 21yr and 19yr old when the realization of me came into their world. Not knowing if I were to be a girl or a boy, I was nicknamed “Froggy” or “Frog” and referred to as such during my mom’s pregnancy. My father, Mark, left for Vietnam knowing he would be a father and dreaming of the family life that would be waiting for him to return. While deployed he wrote diligently to my mom, updating her on his daily activities and plans for their future. He was excited to be a father and looked forward to sharing his love of racing and hunting with his children.

On January 21st, 1969, I made my debut, and my father could not have been prouder to have a daughter. During the first 28 days of my life, I was to be the eldest of several children if my father had any say about it, and since he got his daughter before the 2-3 sons he was thinking would be born first, my childhood would have been filled with hunting alongside my dad and brothers while my mom read her book back at camp. As soon as I started walking, my father was going to “build a little electric go kart that runs on a car battery” and “paint it pink with whitewall tires”. He wanted my mom to “sew a little white seat with ruffles on it”. He said I would “have to grow some” before I could have my first gun, “maybe about six or seven”. I had my place in the Mark and Betty Jones family plan, with my loving and caring mother and my father who called me their “little gift from heaven”. For 28 days that was my origin story. February 18th, it was over. At 22yrs old, my father was gone. He'd put his life and everything he loved on hold to fight and die for freedom. He died knowing he had a wife and daughter back home waiting for him. He died knowing he had a plan for his future that was full of family, hunting and days on the track. It was with all this love in his heart which made it clear that the fight for freedom came first.

By the summer of 1971, my mom remarried, and I could not have asked for a better stepfather. I did not grow up hunting and have never been to a track, but I did grow up with my loving and caring mother and a stepdad who I cannot remember when he was not my life. Between them they also had one daughter, and I was raised as part of the Pat and Betty Kuensting family. Regardless of having a traditional family with a mom, dad, and a sister, there was always a part of me that felt a disconnect.

It took me years to understand that what I felt was the entirety of all that was lost when my father died. From the time I was aware of others and their feelings, I understood that everyone I knew was either grieving or knew my mom and I as next of kin. It's a complicated environment to navigate as a child and it still affects me to this day. Everything about me and my life is a coexistence of the collateral damage and collateral beauty of war. I am a Gold Star Child.


The Lamb and the Grave

I have no idea when the first time I was at my father’s gravesite, but it is the one and only location in Salem, Oregon that I’ve been visiting my entire life. As a child my mom would take me there every Memorial Day. It was one of my favorite days of the year, because I got to “see” my dad. We would stop and pick up fresh flowers for his gravesite beforehand, always a mixture of his favorite daisies and carnations with some baby’s breath to fill it all out. There is a little girl’s gravesite with a lamb on the headstone that is near my father’s which for some reason stood out to me, I would always insist we put pink carnations and baby’s breath on hers as well. Once I was old enough to drive, I would visit on my own frequently. During the years of teenage angst, it was my thinking spot.

In preparing this story, I realized I had no pictures of my father’s gravesite and considered saving myself the 4-hour drive to snap a few and asking my youngest son to run across town for me. Then I realized he didn’t know where to go and I really couldn’t explain where it was beyond the address of the cemetery. So, I made the drive to my hometown for my pictures.

Once you go through the main entrance, you drive past the main parking area and park on the right side by some shrubs. If it’s Memorial Day, the flags will be there, but it was not so I just parked by the shrubs. You walk across the drive from where you parked, and you go through a break in more shrubbery. The “lamby” grave is on the row extending from the shrubs. Her name was Wendi Lou. Up one row and down towards the tree, you’ll find my father’s grave. This for me is like coming home. It is the only place where I have ever felt a connection to my father.


The Bug and The Bonanza

My mom, being an avid sentimental saver, kept my father’s letters, pictures and mementos of their courtship and short life together. When I was a young child she would read his letters to me, thankfully omitting the lovie dovie parts not suitable for young ears. I knew I came from love and my young parents would have built a loving home and family together. As I grew, she gave me his keepsakes when I was old enough to care for them and the letters when I was old enough to comprehend the parts she previously left out. Although now that I’ve read the letters in their entirety, I wish those portions of the letters had been truly redacted with black marker. There are just some things a daughter cannot unread!

Among my father’s various keepsakes there was also a binder full of receipts and notes from his kart racing. My mom referred to it as a ledger and being a young girl when I received it, I had no interest in the receipts or in deciphering the meaning behind a Mc6 stuffer, Mc8 block, 5 crank, and 40 over 8 piston. So,

intact in its binder it would remain for decades before I became interested

In 2013, I ran across the box of keepsakes and decided to revisit the notebook. I was surprised to see that it wasn’t a ledger at all, but a race journal of sorts. In 1964, on his 17th birthday my father bought his first Go Kart and started racing. He was surprisingly meticulous for a 17yr old male and thoughtfully organized the journal in sections and kept all his receipts in the back. In the first section he dedicated as a diary of his races complete with track notes, in the second section he kept records of his various engine builds and modifications dated and in chronological order, and the third he noted repairs and modifications made to the body of his karts which he’d named Bug and Bonanza. There was a miscellaneous section behind it all with fuel mixture notes, and various other information important to his racing. I was taken back for a minute, overwhelmed by the new perspective this discovery had given me. It was my inner journalist that started seeing question after question within the contents, and as I researched and answered those questions, a story started to unfold.

The pursuit of this story has been a bit of a passion ever since, but with most of the research being historical and not having any personal ties to the people my father raced with my story has always felt unfinished. How do I write an unfinished story? Where can I find answers to my questions within my father’s journal? Then it occurred to me, if I publish this story in blog format, include a forum, and spread the word by social I might have a chance of finding the leads I need to finish my story and find a way to connect with the world I would have known within my first 28 days as Tracy Jones.


The Unfinished Lap and The Chase

The Unfinished Lap has become more than just a story, it's a mission! Please join me over the next few days while I release the rest of the original story segments. Barring any unforeseen blogsite developer challenges, this is the publication schedule:

  • Thursday Feb. 16th - The Unfinished Lap: The Story

  • Friday Feb. 17th - The Paper Trail: A Journal's Perspective

  • Saturday Feb. 18th - My Gold Star Anniversary

In the meantime, feel free to browse my site, read/join the forums, scroll through the media gallery, and like/comment on my posts. Share my site and posts on your socials, tag a veteran or a kart enthusiast and help me chase the leads to finish my story! I appreciate your contributions!

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