Gold Star Mother: a venerated status that no one wants. When an active-duty service member dies, his mother automatically becomes a Gold Star Mother. It is a distinction that no mother wants, but it is one they all wear proudly.
On June 23, 1936, the 74th United States Congress designated the last Sunday of September as “Gold Star Mother’s Day.” The national commemoration is an opportunity for the American public to remember and honor the continued service of Gold Star Family members. Since the loss of a child impacts the entire family, the Department of the Army now observes the last Sunday in September as “Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day.”
Who are Gold Star Mothers? Many outside the military don’t know the meaning of the term Gold Star Mother. Despite its widespread use, the term isn’t universally understood. For one thing, it doesn’t refer to a medal received by a soldier for valor — such as a Bronze Star, Silver Star or Purple Heart.
The term “Gold Star” originated during World War I. Americans displayed flags in homes, businesses, schools, and churches bearing a blue star for each family member serving in the military. Families stitched a gold star over the blue star to honor those members who died during military service. This allowed members of the community to know the price that the family had paid for the cause of freedom.
In 1928, 25 mothers who lost sons in World War I met in Washington to establish the American Gold Star Mothers organization. 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. Sue Pollard has been a member of the organization since 2008, in memory of her son, 21-year-old Army Specialist 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 of 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.'”
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.” Now, Sue Pollard is the national president of American Gold Star Mothers.
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.”
Commemorating Gold Star Mother’s Day last week. “This year, at the national level, we’re trying to make people aware of military suicide,” Pollard said. Many of the mothers met last week in Washington, D.C., to host a walkathon 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.”
Gold Star Families don’t want any recognition for themselves.
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. 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.
When survivors lose their service member, a lot of times they have lost their only link to the military. The Army is dedicated to providing ongoing support to over 75,000 surviving family members of fallen service members.
Army Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) offers resources including supportive counseling, financial education, benefits coordination, and support groups to surviving family members for as long as they need or request Army involvement. Survivor Outreach Services provides that conduit to other Gold Star Families and all the military benefits and entitlements that they are eligible for. More importantly, SOS provides continued support.
Gold Star Families don’t want any recognition for themselves. They only want to ensure that their soldier — their son, daughter, spouse, father, or sister — is remembered.
Dr. Katherine (Kat) Harris is a veteran spouse, expat, and former military contractor with over 20 years of expertise in military/family transition, career counseling, higher education, organizational strategic planning, and international relations. An OpsLens contributor, she has conducted seminars and workshops for many Department of Army commands. She served as a translator and liaison for American, British, French, and German civilian/military communities in Berlin and Helmstedt, Germany. This OpsLens article is used by permission.
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