HESPERIA Robbie Kuykendall's son was killed in Vietnam in 1968. She feels the loss most on holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day.


"It was hard," she said. "It's still hard during the veterans' days."


But Kuykendall of Apple Valley is a firm believer in honoring the soldiers who serve our country. She belongs to the Hesperia unit of the American Legion Auxiliary, a service organization for women with family members who served or are currently serving in the military.


Her son, Henry Joseph Kuykendall, was just 19 years old when he died in Vietnam on Oct. 12, 1968 after serving for four months.


Kuykendall was drafted, but although he hadn't planned on being a Marine, he didn't try to get out of serving his country.


"He wasn't happy about going because he wanted to get married," Kuykendall recalled. "He got married the week that he left."


She hasn't seen her daughter-in-law in over 40 years.


"She never spoke to me after my son died," Kuykendall said. "She just came and she threw his clothes on the porch."


Recently Kuykendall received a long-overdue honor: a Gold Star Service Banner to commemorate the loss of her son. The American Legion Auxiliary awarded her the flag in a ceremony last month.


In a tradition that started during World War I, starred flags are made for families with children who serve in the military during a war. Blue Star Service Banners represent active soldiers; Gold Star Service Banners stand for soldiers who died during service.


"The flag could be hung by the family of the person in the service or it could be hung at a business," said Midge Nicosia, vice president of the American Legion Auxiliary's Hesperia unit. "Typically we make a presentation to the mothers, since it is a women's organization."


The American Legion Auxiliary is the world's largest women's patriotic organization, Nicosia explained, with some 800,000 members worldwide. The Hesperia unit started in 2010 and welcomes new members, including girls under 18, who are considered junior members.


In addition to the Blue and Gold Star Banner program for families of veterans, the auxiliary supports veterans in the community through fundraisers, special events at veterans' organizations, and visits to schools to teach students what it means to be an American.


"We're advocates for patriotism, really," Nicosia said.


For Kuykendall, it's rewarding to show her appreciation to soldiers by sending packages to those serving overseas, by visiting veterans in rest homes and by recognizing soldiers and veterans on patriotic holidays.


"We always have something on Veterans Day and invite the public," Kuykendall said. "We always tell them, don't forget the veterans don't forget those who paid the price. The price of freedom is not cheap. That's all we're trying to do, so the people won't forget."