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Rockbridge County family decorates White House for Christmas after son, brother killed in Afghanistan

‘Sitting there looking at that tree there are moments where you lose your breath for a second’

The family of the Rockbridge native Army Capt. Andrew Ross was invited. Ross was awarded the Gold Star.
The family of the Rockbridge native Army Capt. Andrew Ross was invited. Ross was awarded the Gold Star.

WASHINGTON – A lot of people go all out when it comes to Christmas decorations, putting up multiple trees and villages in their home.

Imagine decorating the White House for the holiday season.

A Rockbridge County family recently got that experience, but it came at the highest cost.

Sarah Ross Geisen and her mother, Beth, outside the White House (Sarah Ross Geisen)

Sarah Ross Geisen and her mother, Beth, were recently chosen to help out.

“There are just boxes of ornaments and boxes of lights just coming out of the woodwork. You’d think that you’ve got one tree done and then the next thing you know there’s more stuff coming,” said Geisen.

Out of all the Christmas trees at the White House, there’s one that holds special meaning for her.

The 2020 Gold Star Family Tree at the White House pays tribute to American heroes and their families who walk beside them in service. (Sarah Ross Geisen)

“I think I probably stood there and looked at that tree longer than I did anything else in the entire White House,” said Geisen.

Hanging on the Gold Star Family Tree is the name of her late brother, Army Capt. Andrew Ross.

Green Beret Army Capt. Andrew Ross was killed November 27, 2018, in an explosion in Afghanistan. (US Army)

The Rockbridge County native was killed two years ago in Afghanistan when an IED hit his car.

[Rockbridge County High School honors fallen soldier by retiring his jersey]

The tree represents all of our service members and their families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“It’s really something to be able to sit there and be able to think about them and pray for them and pray for their families, because sitting there looking at that tree there are moments where you lose your breath for a second and you think about what this tree stands for,” Geisen said.

It was a lot for her to take in, especially since it was almost two years to the day that her brother was killed.

“Just to sit there and look at what we experienced and not to necessarily say how far we’ve come, but how much we’ve grown to bear the weight of it,” Geisen said.

As they worked alongside other Gold Star families hanging ornaments, there was an understanding of the joy and pain in this opportunity to decorate.

“We were able to talk about my brother, and talk to other Gold Star families, and we understood each other, so it was a safe place to be emotional, but at the same time they understood if we had happy memories and laughs about it in light of the grief,” Geisen said.

The First Family and thousands more will walk the halls of the White House this holiday season, but nothing means more to the Ross family than one ornament on one tree.

“I feel very honored to have worked on that tree,” Geisen said.

Below is the story from Jan. 8, 2019, when Ross was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.


About the Author:

After working and going to school in Central Virginia for over five years, Lindsey’s made her way back home to the mountains.