Perpetuating the Noble Principles for which They Fought and Died
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American Gold Star Mothers, Inc


Acceptance Speech

"When this journey is placed upon us by our child's death, we too must learn to recognize the open door and the opportunities it gives us to give back to the community. In the process we learn new skills and discover our own hidden strength trying to turn this unbearable negative into a powerful positive." Ruth Stonsifer PNP American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. 2010.

September 24, 2009 was the day I can distinctly remember taking my first step forward in a positive direction from the grief that gripped our family following the loss of our son. That was the day of my first interactive volunteer experience as a member of American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. Before that day, my volunteerism was limited to gathering personal care items and sending goodie boxes to deployed military personal in the privacy of my home. Now I was daring to venture out into the public by volunteering to act as an escort for one in the group of WW II Veterans traveling from Iola, Kansas to Washington, DC on an Honor Flight. Their mission was to pay tribute to fallen comrades and enjoy the sites of the nation's capital. I chose that as my first volunteer experience because of a mother at my first national convention in July 2008 in Branson, Missouri. This mother shared in a general question and comment section about an Honor Flight in her Department. I do not remember what she looked like and I did not get her name. I simply listened and jotted down notes. As if it were meant to be, a local group in my county began planning an Honor Flight. Bill Shirley, coordinator (a retired teacher and Army NCO) happened to be a friend of our family. I felt comfortable asking him if he thought I could do this. Not as a nurse, but as a mother who was still traveling back from the early months of loss. His candor and support was honest. It was not going to be easy and he was so right. But oh so positive! To see those men and women who had given so much for our country; enjoy, celebrate and remember with dignity their generation was simply incredible. I could not have picked a better time to take my first step forward.

Volunteering does that for you. It is the standard of our organization that was set so long ago by Grace Darling Seibold. She and the other mothers who joined her at Walter Reed Hospital in those dark days of WW I, had only one purpose in mind....helping our physically and emotionally wounded Veterans. In return they received a feeling of satisfaction knowing if their sons could not be helped, someone else's son could. I am thankful for those brave women because they had the foresight to know there would unfortunately be others that were to follow in their footsteps. They set the cornerstone for American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

Not everyone that has endured such a loss can do what we do. It takes special mothers with a strong faith, enduring emotional strength and steady family support. It takes special mothers to balance all the responsibility of today's already rushed world and add a new ball to be juggle. But once you volunteer, there is a rush of energy, well-being and satisfaction that is difficult to describe. A return if you will for the investment you make. Most of you already know this through the life-long volunteering you have done through PTA, 4-H, school boards, Church boards, community service organizations and your professional organizations. Some of you have given service to our country and offered the ultimate commitment to freedom. A few are experiencing volunteering for the first time ever through this organization. Thank you all for stepping forward.

I wish everyone I have known, through my professional career and personal life in this same situation, would have had the support I am privileged to have through AGSM. Having seen my two of my own siblings suffer the loss of sons to suicide(civilian) and the painful void of such a support system makes me ever so grateful to have you. They have no such person to reach out to on a dark day or sleepless night. I have only to pick up the phone, text, Facebook message or email one of you for an instant emotional hug. As my friend and fellow gold star mother, Janice Chance would say, "I am blessed"!

In the coming year, I invite you to continue to reach out and teach others about our organization. Educate the general public about who we are and what we do so they will feel empowered to tell other gold star mothers. Encourage partnerships with other Volunteer Service Organizations and share the benefits of volunteering to serve our Veterans.

Our organization will continue to do the work established by our founders in a way that is consistent with changes in our culture and society. Our organization must be modern, fresh and ever adapting. With that in mind however, we must strive to preserve the past and respect our history. I encourage each of you to read the AGSM history book written by Holly Fenlon. We need to know where we have been as an organization, including the trials and tribulations along the way. It is superbly written and one of the best literary pieces on American culture I have ever had the pleasure to read.

The National Executive Board, assisted by the Strategic Planning Committee has developed a set of goals for the coming year to keep us focused on moving forward. These goals include support of the Vietnam Veterans Education Center at the Wall as our national service project with a minimum target of $50,000 in donations; supporting the efforts of the Gold Star Mothers Monument Project to get the monument built; Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War with at least one event in every Department and Chapter; and the development of an outreach plan to inform and educate other gold star mothers about AGSM. Your assistance at the Department and Chapter level is crucial to success in achieving these goals. Every member must be committed to work together with their local leadership to make these goals a reality.

As part of my commitment toward these goals, I will be hosting two groups of nurses at national headquarters in a version of Honor Flight. These nurses have served in military theatre, our VA hospitals and in community hospitals treating our Veterans. They each have a military connection either blue or gold. In addition, there are plans for volunteer service projects, at Washington, DC Veterans care facilities for the NEB at the September and February board meetings. Finally, I challenge each department to find a Vietnam gold star mother who has never been to the annual national convention. Facilitate their trip to Kansas City in 2015 and celebrate their contribution to our history.

I am excited about the year ahead. The board you have elected is well qualified to handle the financial, legal and ethical responsibility set forth in the Constitution and Bylaws. I am confident that the decisions they make on your behalf will be to the betterment of our Veterans and our organization. Thank you for entrusting the position as the voice for American Gold Star Mothers to me. On March 24, 2007 I lost my voice. It took a long time to be able to stand up before any group and speak. That was so odd, as I have been speaking in public since age 7. But you see, I never realized that the heart is a much stronger organ than the brain. Every time I opened my mouth to speak about our son, the heart got in the way. It is still a work in progress. So I ask your permission, to speak about your sons. Just as I spoke before the Kansas Legislative Military and Veterans Services committee this past spring. I spoke about, Daniel Tatum, Justin Pollard, Angela Foster's son Jimmy and Shirley and Bob Hemenway's son Ronald who was killed at the Pentagon on 9/11/2001. Just as I spoke last fall about 1st Lt. Jeffrey Scharver USN on the 30th anniversary of Grenada, and Jeffrey Young on the 30th anniversary of the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. I promise to speak not only from my heart but my head. I promise to conduct my actions as set forth in the AGSM obligation. I am committed to the example Grace Darling Seibold set in her days at Walter Reed Hospital.

I have not done this alone. For the past five years, I have watched listened and learned from those who have served on the National Executive Board. Thank you for your counsel and the willingness to share your experiences.

I could not do this without a family who is supportive. Thanks to my husband Mike and our children Leigh and Tyler.

In closing, I want to invite you to join the 2014 National Executive Board in Washington, DC on September 27, 28, and 29th for Gold Star Mother's Sunday. The itinerary is wonderful and we hope to show case not only our mission but also have a great time in our nation's capital.


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