Group helps moms cope with despair when soldiers die

A few holidays back, on the Fourth of July, Connie Bickers helped out on the Gold Star Mothers float.

Afterward, a few people walked up to her to ask, "What are the Gold Star Mothers?"

A good question for Veterans Day. Bickers, who lives in St. Joseph, lost her son, Spc. Cory Hubbell, on June 26, 2003, in Kuwait, after he had respiratory problems. He was 20.

She isn't bitter about being asked about the organization for families of fallen soldiers, but she does think people ought to know why there's a flag with a gold star in her window.

"I didn't know what a Gold Star Mother was until I became one," she admits.

The question has been awkward for Ava Tomson of Tolono as well.

"We've had people ask 'What club does that stand for?' Then you have to explain. It makes them feel embarrassed, they feel bad for bringing it up. But it's OK," Tomson says.

Adds Bickers:"We're not a bunch of ladies who sit around and cry."

Tomson was a Blue Star Mother in the beginning, when her son, Pfc. Lucas Starcevich, first went to Iraq. The Department of Defense gives Blue Star Flags to the families of soldiers serving overseas, one star for each who serves.

The supportive mom had to do something, so she crafted comfort quilts for families of fallen soldiers.

Then her own son died April 16, 2007, victim of a roadside bomb. Pfc. Starcevich was 25.

Tomson said she was invited into Gold Star Mothers by a group of Vietnam-era mothers, and found that talking with them, and volunteering with them, made a difference.

"With grief, some people pull together; some pull apart with the pain," she says.

Ruth Stonesifer, a Pennsylvania woman who runs Gold Star Mother publications, said the organization has helped families since the time of World War I, "the war to end all wars."

A Washington, D.C. mother, Grace Darling Seibold, lost her son, Lt. George Vaughn Seibold, when he was declared missing in action flying a combat mission over France in August 1918. He was serving in England's Royal Air Force, Stonesifer said.

"Mrs. Seibold was working in veterans hospitals. In the years after World War I, she went to hospitals hoping to find her son, hoping he was suffering from amnesia," she said.

She never found her son, but did make friends with about 25 other mothers, who went on to form the core of the new Gold Star Mothers, she says.

During World War II, the Department of Defense gave Blue Star Flags to families of soldiers and sailors. A Gold Star could then be placed over the blue star.

With the heavy losses of World War II, Gold Star Mothers were at their greatest number in the 1950s, Stonesifer says.

But the Vietnam era was different.

"To the mother, it doesn't make much difference when you lose a child in any kind of conflict," she says. "It's devastating no matter what.

"But the attitude that the country has towards that conflict was very different. Vietnam mothers probably endured the weirdest reception, but they lived their lives with grace and dignity."

Now, Bickers says, people are supportive, once they've been clued in to what makes a Gold Star Mother.

On the last Sunday in September, Gold Star Mother's Day is observed in the U.S. in their honor. Bickers said she'd like to see that marked on more calendars.

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