Tuesday , 19 November 2019

Gold Star Mother’s Day: Who They Are, What It’s All About

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

When an active-duty service member dies, his or her mother automatically becomes a Gold Star Mother. It’s a distinction that no mother wants, but it’s one they wear proudly.

Many outside the military don’t know what a Gold Star Mother is. Since this Sunday is Gold Star Mother’s Day, we thought we’d tell you who these women are.

Alison Malachowski tends to the grave of her son, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. James Malachowski, in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. Staff Sgt. Malachowski was killed by an IED during his fourth combat deployment on March 20, 2011, while his unit was raising the Afghanistan national flag over a small compound near Patrol Base Dakota in Marjah Province. Army photo by Sgt. Ken Scar

How Gold Star Mothers Came About

The tradition of the Gold Star began during World War II. During the early days of the war, a blue star was used on service flags and hung in homes and businesses to represent each living active-duty member. As men were killed in combat, the gold star was superimposed on the blue star to honor the person for his ultimate sacrifice to the country. Eventually, the mothers of those fallen service members became known as Gold Star Mothers, and their families Gold Star Families.

There’s an Organization to Help Them

Many American Gold Star Mothers stand for a group photo with Vietnam War veterans in front of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., during a previous Gold Star Mother’s Day. AGSM photo

While all mothers of fallen service members are considered Gold Star Mothers, there’s a veterans service organization they can join for support, known as the American Gold Star Mothers. The group, which currently has about 1,000 active members, was started in 1928 by one woman – Grace Darling Seibold. Her son disappeared fighting in World War I, so she spent years working at veterans hospitals in hopes of finding him.

“She met all these other women who were thinking the same thing – they hadn’t heard from their children and went to find them,” said Sue Pollard, the national president of American Gold Star Mothers. “What they found was other children and other mothers who they could support.”

Seibold eventually learned of her son’s death but continued her community service, organizing a group of mothers of the fallen so they could comfort each other and care for those veterans confined to hospitals far from home.

One Mom’s Story

Army Spc. Justin Pollard during deployment in Iraq. Pollard family photo

Pollard has been a member of the organization since 2008, in memory of her son, 21-year-old Army Spc. Justin Pollard. Justin had enlisted on Sept. 11, 2001, as a result of the terrorist attacks, and he loved what he was doing for the country. He was deployed to Iraq in April 2003. That December, just before the New Year, he was tragically killed by friendly fire.

“He died doing what he loved to do,” Pollard said, reflecting on her son. “Justin had the best heart. From the time he was in preschool, he always defended the underdog, and he was always there for the kids who got picked on. … To this day, people say, ‘This is what I remember about Justin. This kid was picking on me at school, and Justin stepped up to the plate.’”

A Pollard family photo, taken in December 2001 while Army Spc. Justin Pollard (right) was home for Christmas. His father, Bill Pollard, said it was their last family photo together, and it hangs proudly over their home’s fire place. Photo courtesy of the Pollards

Pollard, a California native, and another Gold Star Mother eventually met and began meeting regularly. They learned of more women like them, so they began to meet as a group. At the time, they didn’t even know about the official organization.

“We had no idea what a Gold Star Mother was,” Pollard said. “We started meeting before we knew what we were.”

It’s All About Support

So why do these women join American Gold Star Mothers? It’s pretty simple – to get support from others who know their pain.

“These moms – all of us remember each other’s children,” Pollard said. “We try to remember their birth dates and death dates, and we try to send a text or email or even a card [to their families] and say, ‘We’re thinking of you,’ because we know these are difficult days.”

No matter when you start the journey, it’s a long one, and it’s never over.

“Some of us have been doing this for 14 years. Some have been doing this for 14 days,” Pollard said. “In those time periods, though, we all have peaks and valleys, and we all sometimes take a couple of days … to just sit back and reflect and do things our children would be proud of.”

The Group Has Goals

Volunteers place wreaths on headstones in Arlington National Cemetery during the Wreath Across America event, Dec. 17, 2016, which marked the 25th year that wreaths were placed at ANC. Army photo by Rachel Larue

These Gold Star Mothers raise funds for veterans, active-duty service members and their families, as well as other Gold Star families. They’re active year-round, visiting veterans at homes and hospitals, taking them snacks and gifts, reading them stories and letting them know someone is always there for them. Around the holidays, they raise funds for Wreaths Across America.

“We want to honor all vets who fought and died for this great country,” Pollard said. “We want to give back, because this is what our children did – they gave. This is to keep their memories alive.”

Commemorating Gold Star Mother’s Day

Gold Star Mothers salute the flag during a ceremony honoring the fallen during Gold Star Mother’s Day. American Gold Star Mother’s photo

“This year, at the national level, we’re trying to make people aware of military suicide,” Pollard said.

Many of the mothers are meeting in Washington, D.C., to host a walk-a-thon from the Disabled Veterans Memorial to the Vietnam Memorial on the National Mall.

If it weren’t for that, Pollard said she would be at home in California, celebrating her son.

“My family usually goes to the cemetery in California where they honor Gold Star Mother Sundays,” she said. “And we usually go to lunch or dinner at Justin’s favorite restaurant. … We eat what he would eat, we have a shot of tequila, and we honor him the best way we can.”

How Can Other Mothers Get Involved?

Sometimes new Gold Star Mothers contact the organization, but other times, the organization has to let them know they’re there. Due to privacy issues, it’s not always easy.

“We as individual moms have to find these moms ourselves,” Pollard said.

Any Gold Star Mothers interested in joining American Gold Star Mothers can contact a chapter in their area. There are also organizations for Gold Star Wives.

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