Providing services to vets and their families
Becky Christmas, a Wagon Mound, N.M. woman, has been actively involved in American Gold Star Mothers Inc., for many years. Following the death of her son, Capt. Todd Tyler Christmas who died while serving in the military, she wanted to affiliate with an organization in which she could serve others and honor her son. Christmas has served on the national board of American Gold Star Mothers and will soon step up to the role of president. Below she responds to questions about the organization.
By presidential proclamation, the last Sunday in September each year is designated as Gold Star Mother’s Day, but the proclamation is more than a recognition of selfless women who devote their time and energy to support soldiers, families of deceased veterans, and each other; GSM recognizes the impact mothers have had in shaping who we are as a country and the value of patriotism to sustain hope. The proclamation, written in 1936, is printed at the end of this Q&A.
ORP: Becky, talk about how American Gold Star Mothers has effected your life.
Becky: American Gold Star Mothers made a huge impact on my life when I first met other GSM members in New Mexico. Some were Mothers from the Vietnam era. They showed me they had lived full lives and had also continued the mission that their child could not, by helping others. I was not looking for a grief organization and that is not what we are. I began to feel that I could make a difference in veterans’ lives and other families of the fallen, once I met other Gold Star Mothers. It has changed my life a great deal and helped me step out of my comfort zone to help others.
ORP: What would you like people to know about the organization they may not know?
Becky: American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. is a service organization. We are the first Veterans Service Organization-VSO. Our number is 001. Not all Gold Star Mothers join AGSM. It is similar to the American Legion or VFW. Not all veterans choose to join those. We began in 1928.
ORP: What was the genesis of American Gold Star Mothers?
Becky: When the United States entered World War I in 1917, American George Vaughn Seibold, 23, ended up serving in the British Royal Flying Corps. He corresponded with his family regularly. His mother, Grace Darling Seibold, was inspired to do community service by visiting returning servicemen in hospitals. When mail from George stopped, the family was unable to learn what happened to him. Grace continued to visit hospitalized veterans in the Washington area, clinging to the hope that her son might have been injured and returned to the United States without any identification. While working through this time, she helped ease the pain of the many servicemen who returned so war-damaged they were incapable of reaching normalcy. On Oct. 11, 1918, George’s wife in Chicago received a box marked Effects of Deceased Officer 1st Lt. George Vaughn Seibold. The Seibolds also received a confirmation of George’s death on Nov. 4, through a family member in Paris. George’s body was never identified.
Thereafter, Grace devoted her time and efforts to working in hospitals and extending the hand of friendship to other mothers whose sons had lost their lives in military service. She organized a group of these special mothers, with the purpose of comforting each other and giving loving care to hospitalized veterans confined in government hospitals far from home. The organization was named for the Gold Star families hung in their windows in honor of the deceased veteran. After years of planning, on June 4, 1928, twenty-five mothers met in Washington, DC to establish the national organization, American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. We began with a few mothers from WWI in the DC area who wanted to turn their grief into something positive and it continued to grow. There have been many years when the membership was in the many thousands. Now we have around 1,000 members.
ORP: Why do women join this volunteer organization?
Becky: Most women join to give back, to continue the mission their child cannot. They want their child remembered but they also want to support their child’s friends who came home. They want to make a difference in the lives of veterans.
ORP: Not all mothers of deceased veterans choose to be a part of the organization. What do you think holds them back?
Becky: I think some women only want a grief organization; some think they will have to go to meetings all the time; some think they will have to volunteer at hospitals all the time. There are many reasons. Some do not see that they can help and make a difference.
ORP: Gold Star Mothers is a national organization with chapters across the country. How does one become affiliated with a chapter if there isn’t one in the town where you live?
Becky: Most states only have one or two chapters in their state. In New Mexico, for example, we only have one chapter. It is located in the central part of the state. We have members all across the state. Many cannot attend a meeting in person but they can attend events in their area and volunteer in their area. Each new member is assigned a chapter and department by the National Service Officer. Our New Mexico chapter tries to have a conference call meeting, every other month, and of course email is a great way to communicate. We try to have our members attend and volunteer in their areas.
ORP: Is there a cost to join and what is the money used for?
Becky: The cost for National membership is $30/year. Those dues cover the cost of putting out the newsletter six times a year and helps maintain our headquarters in Washington, D.C. Chapters and departments also may have dues. Most are only $5.
ORP: What types of volunteer work do Gold Star Mothers do?
Becky: AGSM members volunteer as representatives at a VA hospital or clinic. We try to have a representative for each state. We also have a deputy representative. We can also volunteer at a VA Center, Wreaths Across America, help in Fisher Houses, memorial parks and cemeteries, donate items at the VA hospitals, volunteer and donate at veteran nursing homes and any veteran event. We help with Stand Down for Homeless Veterans, Horses For Heroes, Paws and Stripes, memorial walks and runs and numerous other activities. We raise money that goes to veterans. The main focus this year is suicide awareness.
ORP: In what way is the organization affiliated with veterans’ organizations?
Becky: Many of our mothers are American Legion Auxiliary members and we are a Veterans Service Organization under the Department of Veteran’s Services.
ORP: What is the significance of wearing white?
Becky: Wearing white is a time-honored tradition of the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. While black is a traditional color of mourning, the decision to wear white, rather than black, denotes the celebration of our children’s goodness, innocence and sacrifice. President Wilson also asked the GSM to wear white with a black armband, with a gold star, as the nation had endured so many deaths and it was mourning, but by wearing white, they could show there may be light ahead. The Gold Star Mothers are easily recognized at events because of their attire. Also, the Gold Star wives, wear a gold jacket and the Blue Star Mothers wear navy blue attire.
ORP: What challenges does the organization face as it looks to the future?
Becky: One of the biggest challenges now, is that a great majority of membership applications are from mothers whose child committed suicide. Sometimes the family does not have a document that states that the suicide was a result of service or many times the stigma of seeking help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury, prevents the servicemen and women from seeking help, especially at the VA. For a parent, the tragedy of a suicide means they will always seek the reason why. By the VA and military recognizing the results of combat and multiple deployments, we can help these families.
ORP: As the incoming president, what are your hopes and goals for the organization?
Becky: My hope is to reach out to all Gold Star Mothers and to continue the mission that was started this year of Military Suicide Awareness and Prevention. I also want our membership to be aware of legislation that affects our veterans, military and the survivors. I hope to continue the principles of Americanism, patriotism and service. I also want every American to remember the fallen and the sacrifice that service to our country takes.
We are mothers who come from all over the United States. A tragedy has brought us together but I have truly been blessed by these strong and sincere Gold Star Mothers. We help each other while we are helping our veterans.
For more information about American Gold Star Mothers call 202-265-0991, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PROCLAMATION – GOLD STAR MOTHERS
“Whereas the service rendered the United States by the American mother is the greatest source of the Country’s strength and inspiration; and “Whereas we honor ourselves and the mothers of America when we revere and give emphasis to the home as the fountainhead of the State; and
“Whereas the American mother is doing so much for the home and for the moral and spiritual uplift of the people of the United States and hence so much for good government and humanity; and
“Whereas the American Gold Star Mothers suffered the supreme sacrifice of motherhood in the loss of their sons and daughters in World Wars” and
“Whereas the said Public Resolution 12 provides: “That the President of the United States is hereby authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the Government officials to display the United States flag on all Government buildings, and the people of the United States to display the flag and to hold appropriate meetings in their homes, churches, or other suitable places, on the last Sunday in September, as public expression of the love, sorrow and reverence of the people of the United States for the American Gold Star Mothers.”
“Sec. 2. That the last Sunday in September shall hereafter be designated and known as “Gold Star Mother’s Day,” and it shall be the duty of the President to request its observance as provided for in this resolution.”
Photos Courtesy of Becky Christmas