Gold Star Mothers Need Members; Group Helps Veterans, Families
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2003 Whenever Ann Wolcott starts feeling sorry for herself over the loss of her son in Vietnam nearly 35 years ago, she helps someone else "who needs help more than me."
"That's my remedy," said Wolcott, president of the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization with headquarters on Embassy Row in northwest Washington. "I deal with it by helping other people. Our mission as American Gold Star Mothers is to help veterans and their families and other Gold Star Mothers in any way we can."
For example, Gold Star Mothers help veterans file disability claims, they spend hundreds of hours at Veterans Affairs hospitals helping hospitalized veterans, and they help veterans and their families when they have problems.
The group also works with organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and the Military Order of the Purple Heart in assisting veterans. One mother helped to build a shelter for homeless veterans.
"One of our biggest supporters is the Rolling Thunder, Inc., motorcycle club," Wolcott noted, an organization dedicated to the prisoner-of-war and missing-in-action issues.
Thousands of mothers have lost children in America's wars and conflicts from World War II to the global war on terrorism. But only about 1,200 mothers have joined the American Gold Star Mothers nationwide.
Wolcott theorized that many mothers don't join the organization because they don't know about it. "Others don't join for the same reasons many veterans don't join the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign War or the Vietnam Veterans of America -- they're not joiners," she said. "Even people in the military don't know about the Gold Star Mothers.
"Some mothers don't join because it surfaces the pain too much when they join an organization that constantly reminds them about what happened," said Wolcott, whose son, Army Cpl. Rex M. Sherman, was killed in Vietnam on Nov. 19, 1969. "It's hard. It took me three years to join.
"Some people think it brings us comfort and gives us a soft place to fall with other mothers, but it's very emotional," she said.
Most members' children were killed during the Vietnam War, Wolcott noted. "We have a couple of Beirut (Beirut embassy bombing on April 18, 1983, that killed 63 people and wounded 120) and Iraqi (Iraqi Freedom) mothers and one Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury, Oct. 23 -- Nov. 21, 1983) mom," she noted. "We still have mothers from World War II and the Korean War.
"One of our long-time members is Mollie Snyder, who is 94years old," Wolcott continued. "She still rides Harley- Davidson motorcycles whenever she gets a chance, and bowls twice a week. Rolling Thunder takes her out riding."
Two centenarians are Gold Star Mothers. Wolcott said 106- year-old Catherine E. Robertson of Baltimore is one of the newest members. The oldest member is 107-year-old Edith M. Cline of Xenia, Ohio. Both are World War II mothers.
Wolcott noted that the American Gold Star Mothers don't hold recruiting drives. "But," she said, "if we hear of a new mom by way of the news media, we make every attempt to get in touch with her to tell her about our organization. We give them time, because as a mother, I know it takes time to accept what has happened. The key is acceptance where they can move on."
The common bond among the women gives the mothers "a soft place to fall," Wolcott said.
"We would certainly welcome any mothers we can get, especially the younger moms who lost children in Afghanistan and Iraq," she said.
Noting that it takes only five mothers to form a chapter, Wolcott urges eligible mothers to create groups across the country to perpetuate the memory of their children.
Wolcott returned to her home in York, Pa., on Oct. 7 after spending more than two weeks at the Gold Star Mothers home preparing for and participating in the recently completed Gold Star Mothers Day and weekend activities.
She pointed out that Gold Star Mothers Day is always the last Sunday of September, and the mothers hold their annual banquet the night before.
"We traditionally visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial before sunrise on Sunday morning and place roses, flowers and flags at the panels where our loved ones' names are etched in the wall," Wolcott said. "We do the same at the Vietnam Women's Memorial, 'The Three Man Statue' and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. A memorial service is held at Arlington National Cemetery at 2 p.m., and we lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns."
Her son, Army Cpl. Rex M. Sherman, was killed in action on Nov. 19, 1969, in Vietnam. He was an airborne ranger with Charlie Company, 75th Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. Sherman was a long-range patrolman and was killed in an ambush -- shot in the back four times.
Wolcott was working at the now-closed Cameron Station in Alexandria, Va., for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service when the news of her son's death came.
"A chaplain came in and asked, 'Can I speak to you?'" Wolcott recalls sadly. "He told me my son was dead, and to this day I can't believe it. My son was only 18 years old."
She still has two sons and a daughter. Her son, Dana H. Sherman, 49, lives in Harrisonburg, Va.; Robert Sherman, 34, lives in Kauai, Hawaii; and her daughter, Tammy Lyerla, 42, lives in Portland, Ore.
"I hope we can perpetuate the memories of our sons and daughters throughout this nation," said the mother who has been grieving for nearly 35 years. "And I hope we get our kids back from Iraq."
For more information about American Gold Star Mothers, call (202) 265-0991. Their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, visit the Gold Star Mothers Web site.