When I was 14 years old I attended the parade that marked the opening of the Veterans Remembrance Bridge in Bangor. I had friends in a school band who were marching in the parade so I joined thousands of other spectators on that hot humid day. As I watched the military units and veterans I was proud because I just knew that I would join them some day.
Towards the end of the parade a bus came down the parade route with a banner that read, “Gold Star Mothers.” In my youthful ignorance I placed no significance on the title. I asked my own mother what a Gold Star Mother was and I didn’t like the answer. The cost of war that these women paid chipped away at this young man’s romantic view of the battlefield.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and during a similar community event in a small California town nestled in the Sierra-Nevada foothills I manned a booth as the new Post Commander for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars. A very friendly woman came up to me and asked if I would let her into the Veterans’ Hall so that she could see “her boy.” I had no idea what she meant, but opened the door anyway.
On the wall in our hall hung a poster-sized photo of PFC Steven Walberg, he was killed in Iraq by small arms fire in April 2007. I stood solemnly by as I realized who “her boy” was and I watched this Gold Star Mother touch the face of a man I only knew as a fallen comrade. Any remnants of my romantic view of the battlefield welled up in my eyes and disappeared down my cheek.
I have met many Gold Star Mothers since then. I never know what to say. On Mother’s Day I think about them, one and all, and I still don’t know what to say. Just know that the brothers and sisters in arms who knew your child are probably thinking of you today. They just don’t know what to say, either.
I also think of all the mothers of those who are currently in uniform. Chief among those are the moms who have a son or daughter currently deployed. If you don’t get a phone call don’t despair or worry. Between the joy of calculating the difference in time zones and juggling a demanding work schedule your child is surely thinking of you, even if they fumble the actual call. Most importantly, they are safe and healthy. Bad news always travels faster than Mother’s Day calls, so no news is good news.
And I would like to say thank you to all of the mothers who raised a veteran. First, thank you for producing such a fine young person who was willing to dedicate themselves to a cause greater than their own comfort. During my work representing veterans I come across lots of people who never served who claim, “I almost joined, but…” The excuses are endless and sad. Not your child. They made the decision and stuck to it through the rough first few days of basic and wherever their nation asked them to go. Your kid makes me proud.
And thank you for all your support during our years of service. Both my mom and grandmother lent me the moral support whenever I volunteered for another tour, deployment, or assignment. They even supported me when I could see in their eyes that they didn’t share my excitement. I am sure you do the same. My grandmother practically supported my entire squadron on some of my deployments. Her care-packages were legendary and her peanut butter fudge got us through on days when we couldn’t choke down another T-rat.
So, on this Mother’s Day I salute all of the mothers of our veterans. From the Gold Star Mothers who won’t get a call today to the mom of a young person who is in their first week of basic training, take pride that you raised the best that our nation has to offer.