Friday, September 26, 2014

I tried to send this to the Washington Post but I was probably too late in the week when I sent it off.  Since I haven't heard from them, I'm feeling free to post:
By congressional joint resolution, “the last Sunday in September is Gold Star Mother’s Day.”  The law, first enacted in 1936, states: “The President is requested to issue a proclamation calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings, and the people of the United States to display the flag and hold appropriate meetings at homes, churches, or other suitable places, on Gold Star Mother’s Day as a public expression of the love, sorrow, and reverence of the people for Gold Star Mothers” (36 US Code 111). From that year to this, Presidents of all parties and affiliations have issued these proclamations.


Yet so few people know about Gold Star Mothers that I was startled and touched recently when a regular customer at the store where I work approached me to say, “I did not know you are a Gold Star Mother.”  Purely by accident she had seen an old interview on our local cable channel, and heard me talking about my son, Army SPC Thomas Doerflinger, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.  My customer knew about Gold Star mothers, and she knew that the fact that Thomas had died in military service made me one.


Military survivors are Gold Star family members -- named for the service flag star which is blue when a family member is deployed abroad, and is changed to gold if that member dies.   The mothers have had a leading role since the end of World War I, when the American Gold Star Mothers organization was created and incorporated.  Grace Darling Seibold’s son was lost in Europe during that war.  She visited military hospitals hoping to find her son among the wounded, but instead found a calling to comfort the injured and their families.  Ultimately other mothers who had lost their children joined her in this mission, which continues today.


During these years there have been times when there were many Gold Star Mothers—the very first one I met was my uncle’s mother, who had lost a son in the Philippines early in World War II—and times when they are few.  The Vietnam era mothers are very old now, and many are gone.  People forgot what that Gold Star means because they did not need to know, and for that we can be grateful.  But now we have been at war since 2001.  In that time, over six thousand men and women have lost their lives while serving their country in the military.  Those soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors have left families behind: wives and children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. The mothers once again have seen a need and joined together to help others.


Not all Gold Star mothers join the formal organization, but all feel a kinship in our grief and sorrow.  We are proud of our children and their decision to serve their country.  And we are determined that our fallen will not be forgotten.  For that reason, you will find us this weekend at Arlington National Cemetery laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown, at the Vietnam Memorial, and at the National Cathedral, remembering.  Members of the American Gold Star Mothers wear white at official events so we are easily found in crowds.  This weekend, if you see one of the “ladies in white,” I hope you will greet her, offer your condolences, ask about her child.  And if you can’t visit a memorial, I hope you will read this year’s Presidential Proclamation and fly your American flag, while reflecting on the sacrifice that so many families have made and will make in the future.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tomorrow it will 13 years since the world completely changed

It's hard to remember that September 11, 2001 is now 13 years in the past.  It's not disappearing in the rear-view mirror:  we still see effects.  Rebuilding continues, rethinking continues.  The entire world is now concentrated on the Middle East, horrified at the development of a group called (depending on the week and your news source) ISIS or ISIL or IS which roughly means the Islamic State in Iraq or the Levant (how many of us really know what constitutes the Levant?) or just the Islamic State.  Most Muslims seem to disavow the actions of this group which has posted videos of the beheading of two American journalists.  Have they grown out of the rebel movement in Syria or are they descendants of Al Qaeda in Iraq?  I may not live long enough to learn the answer--I'm not planning on going any time soon but it may be a very long time indeed before the truth of all this emerges.

I know Thomas was worried about the proximity of Mosul to Syria.  Mosul has been lost to ISIS (let us call them that for the sake of simplicity), at least for now.  I hope in the end he didn't die for only a temporary gain.  Though I guess the truth is, it's all temporary.  Even the current occupation of Mosul by this group will come to an end some day.