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Gold Star Mothers Meet in Washington

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2003 – Whenever someone mentioned the sons or daughters they lost in war, their faces reddened and a glassy sheen filled their eyes. Some of them lost their composure, and tears crept down their saddened faces.

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Vietnam War veteran David O. Chung, program analyst, Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Minority Veterans, stands by the Vietnam War Women's Memorial on the Washington Mall. Chung was the keynote speaker at the Sept. 27 Gold Star Mothers banquet at the Washington Marriott Hotel. Photo courtesy of David O. Chung
  

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They are the American Gold Star Mothers, a group of mothers who lost a son or daughter during wartime. About 50 mothers, Gold Star dads, daughters, sons and friends gathered here Sept. 27 for the group's annual banquet, which is part of Gold Star Mothers' Weekend. A Gold Star Mothers Day ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns the next day.

This year's keynote banquet speaker was Vietnam War veteran David O. Chung, a Department of Veterans Affairs program analyst at the Center for Minority Veterans. Chung told the gathering that Gold Star Mothers play an important role in "bringing our veterans home and helping us reach a point where we can function in society."

"For what has been experienced by the least of us, affects all of us," said Chung, who pointed out he served in Vietnam in 1972 and that his wife was an Army nurse there in 1969. "You're on the front lines, because you care for veterans. And for every veteran that you come in contact with, both you and that veteran are serving the thousands that didn't, or wouldn't, defend our nation and yet are enjoying the freedoms that are sometimes taken for granted.

"This is," Chang said, "because you continue to be loving mothers of not only yours, but us as well."

He told the gathering that the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial "were men and women who could have been mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, lovers and friends."

"Many generations of sons and daughters have sacrificed themselves to protect and preserve the freedoms of a diverse society," he said.

But, he said, they, who represent every race and culture of the rich and poor, enlisted and officer, "chose to follow a higher calling for their fellow mankind."

Chung said the mothers serve veterans with heartfelt care and respect, adding, "I'm a product of your heartfelt care and respect. A long time ago, I was standing at a Vietnam Veterans Memorial ceremony, and a lady came up and grabbed my arm. She said, 'I know you had a hard time in Vietnam. And I don't care who you are or what you look like, I know that you're a son of somebody.'"

Chang, an Asian American, said that Gold Star Mother's name was Ann Curran. She died in 1998.

"She used to tell me about her son, Patrick Curran (a Marine Corps pilot who was shot down in Southeast Asia)," he said. "She told me how she'd wait to hear the doorbell ring and the casualty officer would be there telling her the fate of her son -- whether he was found alive or whether his remains were not found.

"She took me into her arms and said, 'Well, since my son isn't home, we have to take care of you now,'" Chung said. "She became a very good friend of mine, and my mentor."

Chung said he appreciates the mothers' concern and dedication to all veterans.

"There are more challenges ahead with returning troops from Iraq," he noted. "I know they'll be in good hands -- your hands. You took me into your arms and made me feel like one of your own."

Army Maj. Gen. James T. Jackson, former commander of the Military District of Washington, was keynote speaker for Gold Star Mothers Day at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Jackson said that in "leading the way" in securing America's freedoms and liberty, young people gave up their hopes, dreams and futures in the defense in of the American way of life.

He said the nation needs to remember the mothers who shared life with those young people, and in doing so, also "lead the way" in feeling the pain of their loss.

An Army ranger himself, Jackson said Ann Sherman Wolcott's son, Cpl. Rex M. Sherman, 18, died Nov. 19, 1969, as a ranger with the 75th Infantry Regiment (Rangers) four months after arriving in Vietnam. Wolcott is national president of the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., a private, nonprofit organization.

"Now Ann's qualification to be a Gold Star Mother is just like all the other mothers," said Jackson, who is scheduled to retire Nov. 1. "This qualification is not something to be proud of, nor is it an aspiration that others strive for." He said all that's required is the loss of a child.

"When this qualification is levied on someone, it's not welcomed nor is it something that's envied," the general noted. "But this qualification is not something that comes to the timid or faint of heart. It only comes to those that dare to commit and to those that dare to love.

"This commitment and the desire to care for others remains the hallmark of the Gold Star Mothers," he said. "Each of you continues to prove this daily as you reach out to other mothers, and for this all of us owe you more than we can possibly repay."

Jackson said today's world remains a dangerous place, and America can expect its young people to continue to be placed in harm's way. "Unfortunately, that means that the rolls of the Gold Star Mothers will continue to grow," he said.

Attending the Saturday night banquet were high-ranking military and government officials, veterans organization members and leaders, and a large contingent of Rolling Thunder representatives. Rolling Thunder is an organization that works to focus attention on the issue of prisoners of war and service members missing in action, and its Virginia Chapter 3 presented a $1,000 check to the American Gold Star Mothers.

Sculptor Andrew L. Chernak and his wife, Terria, displayed a replica of the life-size Gold Star Mothers statue that's slated to be dedicated in the Putnam (N.Y.) County Veterans Memorial Park next September.

The ceremony at Arlington ceremony featured the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Honor Guard, Joint Armed Forces Color Guard and the U.S. Army Band Quinter -- Pershing's Own -- led by Sgt. Maj. Dennis Edelbrock. Musical selections were sung by the band's senior vocalist and tenor, Army Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Giuliano, who sang "O Danny Boy" and "Ave Maria."

In addition to giving the invocation and benediction, Army Chaplain (Col.) James E. May of the Military District of Washington also played "Taps" on the trumpet. Walcott, of York, Pa., served as mistress of ceremonies.

On Sept. 14, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the last Sunday in September as "Gold Star Mothers Day." The proclamation calls for the nation to use the day as a public expression of the love, sorrow and reverence for the American Gold Star Mothers who lost sons and daughters in World War I.

Today, the observance includes women who suffered the supreme sacrifice of motherhood in the loss of children during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Beirut, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia and the War on Terrorism.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRolling Thunder's Michael Cobb holds his cap over his heart during the playing of the national anthem Sept. 28 during the Gold Star Mothers Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns. Cobb is a member of Chapter 7 in New Jersey and is the National Board chairman. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageGold Star Mother Judith Young of Moorestown, N.J., holds her hand over her heart during the playing of the national anthem during Gold Star Mothers Day ceremonies at Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery, Sept. 28. Standing at attention is Nguyen Kim Ban, who was a colonel in the South Vietnamese army and was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Honor Guard stand at attention while an Army bugler plays taps Sept. 28 during the Gold Star Mothers Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageVietnamese representatives presented a bouquet of flowers to Gold Star Mothers president Ann Y. Sherman Wolcott. To her left is former South Vietnam army colonel and former prisoner of war Nguyen Kim Ban. At her right are Tam Auh and Le Hong. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageIn addition to giving the invocation and benediction, Army Chaplain (Col.) James E. May of the Military District of Washington blew "Taps" Sept. 28 at the Gold Star Mothers Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageBernice Shimizu, president of the Maryland Ladies Auxiliary, Veterans of Foreign Wars, presents a donation to Gold Star Mothers president Ann Y. Sherman Wolcott during the annual Gold Star Mothers Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Sept. 28. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRolling Thunder's Russell Smith gives Gold Star Mother Ann Herd of Dallas a hug during early morning ceremonies Sept. 28 at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Herd's son, Army Sgt. Ronald Ward Herd of the Army's 23rd Infantry -- the Americal Division -- was killed in Southeast Asia on Aug. 5, 1970, 23 days before he was slated to return to the United States. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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