Sailor's Mom Organizes Patriotic Support
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 22, 2002 Jean Campbell's son, Navy Petty Officer Steven Stefanowicz, is on active duty with the Navy in the Middle East. She is championing his service by uniting service members' mothers in her home state.
Campbell, of Telford, Pa., joined the Blue Star Mothers and set up a chapter of the nonprofit service organization. She hopes to spark a chain reaction with chapters forming in every county.
Jean Campbell, whose son Steven is a sailor stationed in the Middle East, has formed a Blue Star Mothers chapter in her home state of Pennsylvania. She hopes to spark a chain reaction with chapters forming in every county. Photo courtesy Jean Campbell
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Founded in 1942 and chartered by Congress in 1960, the Blue Star Mothers encourage families of military members to display the Blue Star Flag in their window as a sign of support. The flag is a symbol of hope and grave concern, Campbell said. It also "symbolizes pride in the commitment of America's youth and serves as a reminder of the gravity of the entire war effort," she said.
Campbell said she admitted that from the outset she never wanted Steven, her second of four children, to join the armed forces. She said her father and a brother had served in the Marines and another brother had served in the Army, but the family has no overarching tradition of military service.
"Ever since Steven was in grade school," she recalled, "when we would go to the library and everybody would bring home books on different kinds of stories, he always brought home military books. He always wanted to go to the military, but I didn't think it was safe, so I basically made him go to college instead."
About four years ago, Stefanowicz joined a Naval Reserve program for people aged 28 to 32. When terrorists attacked the American homeland Sept. 11, Stefanowicz quit his job as an information technology recruiter in Australia and was back home by October. He volunteered for active duty in the Middle East and was sent overseas in March.
"I thought he would have been one of the last to be called up," Campbell said. "When I asked him why he came home, he said it was because it was his duty."
Shortly before Stefanowicz deployed, Campbell visited her son in Washington, D.C. She told him that when she was a child her mother's neighbor had a flag hanging in her window that had two blue stars on it. Eventually, one star turned to gold, which meant one of the woman's children had died serving in Vietnam.
"My son asked would I fly that flag for him," Campbell said. "I said, 'Sure,' and when I came home I started looking for the Blue Star flag, but no one knew about it. I got on the computer and found some information on the Blue Star Mothers."
She learned she could buy a flag from the group, but first, she turned to her local American Legion in Sellersville, Pa., and they gave her one. She then joined the Blue Star Mothers and contacted national officials to find a local chapter.
"I found out that there are no chapters in the eastern part of Pennsylvania," Campbell said. "In fact, there aren't many members in the Blue Star Mothers anymore. It dwindled from about 40,000 in 1942 to about 800 today. So I decided to start a chapter."
With her husband's support, she quit her job as an insurance salesman and began devoting eight to 10 hours a day to building the chapter. In the past month, she's visited 12 legislators, asking for their support. As a result, a Bucks County commissioner acknowledged the group and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate both introduced resolutions acknowledging the Blue Star Mothers.
"Now, we have 12 members," Campbell said. "They read about my meetings in local newspapers." On May 10, the members elected Campbell president of Bucks and Montgomery counties Chapter 1.
"I've never been a president before, and the chapter coordinator," she said. "This is unbelievable, exciting. Now that I'm officially president, I have so much more to do.
"It's good to see and hear these mothers say how they feel about their loved ones in the service. It's a good support group. I do believe I have a group of women who care, have ideas, and are willing to work."
Asked why she's putting her time and energy into the effort, Campbell is somewhat at a loss for words. After several moments' pause, she quietly replied, "I'm doing this for my son -- because I love him." Her voice broke as she added, "Because it's the only way I can tell him how proud I am. Just like he came home to do his duty, I feel it's my duty as a mother and an American."
Uniting other service members' mothers is a way for Campbell to feel connected to her son. "I can't go where he is to protect him," she said, "and this is the only thing I can do." By learning about the Blue Star Mothers, she said, she's also supporting other sons and daughters in uniform.
Campbell envisions her Blue Star Mothers chapter will work with local veterans hospitals and possibly the local United Service Organizations office. She would also like to see chapter members visit reserve units to thank them when they're called up and when they return from a deployment.
"I would like to do what I call 'Operation Postcard' by going to schools and scouting groups this fall and have everybody write a postcard to send to our military people," she said.
Homeland security is another area where Campbell feels she and others like her can get involved. "I belong to the Red Cross disaster team, and there's only 40 members. I think it would be good for more people to be trained in first aid and CPR," she said.
Not everybody wants to attend regular volunteer meetings, she noted. "Everybody's not a volunteer," she said, "but if we give people direction on what to do and it's something simple, then they'll feel connected and support our military."
She joined and stays for her son, Campbell said, but "the more involved in it I become, the more I'm doing it for all the sons and daughters. I want them to know that we're proud of them.
"I've always been patriotic," she noted. "When 9-11 happened, I put my American flags outside around the perimeter of my house. Because there was a shortage, people asked me where I got them, and I said, 'I had them. I put them out every holiday.' It wasn't something new, I've always believed in our country, and now the war on terrorism has affected me personally -- through my son."
For more information on the organization, go to www.bluestarmothers.org.