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

NORMA LUTHER: JUNE 2011

Acceptance Speech

I can't believe I am writing as your new president! I think all Past National Presidents have said something like that and it is so true; when you finally get to this point you just can't believe it! This is something I never dreamed would happen....I thought I was too old when I was nominated for the flag bearer position! It took me a long time to get here but I assure you I will do my very best to make a lasting and positive impact on our organization. First of all thanks to PNP Emogene Cupp....she was the first to contact me over 23 years ago. I remember my first chapter meeting in Alexandria like it was yesterday. All the moms were asking if I was a Beirut mom. I was 47 years old, the age of a lot of you new moms now and I haven't forgotten a minute of that time. I spent a lot of unproductive time over the next 10-12 years. I lived in Rome, Italy for three years; lighting candles in every cathedral I encountered trying to find peace. I floundered for many years trying to deal with my grief. In 2004 after I had retired from Verizon and moved to Wilmington, NC, I emailed headquarters and asked for the contact information of the Wilmington chapter. Emogene was in the office that day and her answer to me was: if I wanted a chapter in Wilmington I would have to form one. Thank you, Emogene, you came to my rescue a second time.

Well, as your president there are so many things I would like to see accomplished but the one that would make the most impact on our organization is to double the membership. Gasp! Yes, I said double. We have many mothers out there who don't have any idea they are eligible for membership or even know who we are. Reaching out to them would be a good start. You might be thinking, we can't get that many members from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Actually we can, but we have a much larger audience of gold star moms; a lot of moms who don't know they are eligible because their son or daughter did not die in combat. Do you know how many accidental service-related deaths occurred in the years 1980 though 2000? Over 20,000. There were approximately 250 deaths in the Gander air disaster in 1985. How many of those mothers are members of AGSM? I personally don't know of any.

So how do we go about locating and inviting these new members? I have recent knowledge of forming a new chapter. When Emogene told me I could start a chapter she gave me the name of a Rhode Island retiree who had also just moved to Wilmington; many of you know her: Vivian Scharver. We met for lunch and decided we did want to form a chapter. We decided to run a notice in our local newspaper. The notice simply said the local chapter of AGSM was searching for new members, explained very briefly what a Gold Star Mother was and included contact information. The newspaper ran the notice about six times over the next five months and it was free. Viv and I met in June and in September we had our five members. This is all you need to get a charter. Existing small chapters that are having trouble finding new members can use the same process. It really works.

Where are these mothers ? you might ask. Quite simply, everywhere! They are in your places of worship, your VFW, American Legion and DAV auxiliaries and many other organizations. I try never to miss an opportunity to tell people that I am a Gold Star Mother. Not to gain sympathy for myself but to let others know about our organization. As people in the community learn of my involvement, I receive other opportunities for activities that allow me to locate Gold Star Mothers. I don't want to be responsible for having a mother come to me and tell me she lost her son in a training accident 25 years ago or in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other conflict and has never heard of us. We can fix that.

Why do we need to recruit new members? A chapter of 10 or 15 can do so much more than a chapter of five. With more members we can do more fundraising. We can go into more classrooms and tell the students about patriotism and explain flag etiquette. We can accept more speaking engagements. We can be more involved and more effective in our communities: participating in veteran functions, parades and patriotic ceremonies. With more members we can definitely fulfill the objectives and purposes for which our organization was formed: helping our veterans and their families, promoting patriotism and love of our country, providing support for each other and much more.

I have learned that some of our chapters have a problem deciding what type of chapter they want to be. Some want to be a support group only and some want to work on fulfilling our major mission, supporting veterans and their families. Both of these are very worthy goals. I know first hand how important it is to provide support to each other. When we received the Azalea Chapter charter we had five members from the Vietnam era to 9/11. At our first meeting we went around the table introducing ourselves, telling about our sons and how they died. Three of the group had never had an opportunity to tell their story and the tears were flowing freely. However, we laughed almost as much as we cried. We managed to get our meeting details worked out and elect officers. We knew from that first meeting that it would be important to let other new members have the same opportunity to talk about their children. As our chapter started to grow we decided to limit the old members to just one minute in introductions and allowed a longer time for any new member to tell her story. By taking that route we accomplished both objectives. To all the chapters who have this situation, I would encourage you to try a compromise. But never forget our main purpose is serving our veterans; by serving others our grief is lessened and we honor the memory of our sons and daughters.

My son died in a helicopter crash in Germany during the "Cold War" not in combat, so I am very sensitive to any organization that wants to include only moms from combat deaths. Our servicemen/women all died protecting our country. Is the death of the soldier who is training for a new duty station any less a sacrifice than the service person killed by an IED? In my opinion it is not! There have been hundreds of deaths by electrocution since the war in Iraq started and each one of those deaths is as honorable as a combat-related death. Let's band together as the sisters we are and welcome the mothers of these non-combat deaths into our fellowship. If we are to grow and become an even more valuable veterans service organization we can do no less!

I know that I will be extremely busy over the next year. I want to take advantage of each opportunity that is presented to me to represent our organization. And I want to be here for you....do not hesitate to contact me. (Just wait until after 8:00am eastern time please!) Before I forget I want to let all of you know that if you are going to be in DC for any reason but especially for Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Gold Star Mothers Sunday, please notify headquarters so that we can include you in any events that we might get invited to as American Gold Star Mothers or just so we can meet, share stories and get acquainted.

I thank my husband, Jim, and the rest of my family for allowing me the time to serve this great organization. I thank Vivian Scharver for being at my side, on every trip, every function and for being a sounding board and giving truthful responses. Thanks to all the Azalea and Dogwood chapter members who have encouraged me and who are stepping up locally so I can serve as national president. I also want to thank Molly for being such a wonderful mentor. I only hope I can do as well for Mary.

As my time to serve as president grew closer and closer I started thinking about the letters I would have to write. I had also noticed that each president had her own closing slogan and so I started thinking about mine. Quickly I came up with "Reach Out" .... it goes with doubling the membership! So I went to my AGSM history book to see if it had ever been used. PNP Terry Davis used that slogan in 1997/1998. So, the next time I saw Terry I asked if it would be OK for me to use her slogan. Those of you who know Terry know the answer already. It was, "I would be honored!" I want to say I am honored to serve as your president.

Reach out!
Norma
nluther@ec.rr.com


Outgoing President's Message Norma Luther, June 2012

Well, I didn't realize it but I get to say goodbye again. The expression "Life Happens" is an easy slang expression for all the unwanted things that happen to us. We gold star mothers wish that the "life that happened to us" could be fixed, that we could have a do over, anything that would restore our life to the time before "it" happened. However, we know that is futile thinking and we strive to move on. For me I kept thinking that my son had so much more to live for, to do, to offer the world than I did. Why couldn't I have been the one to die? I didn't have nearly as much to offer. Then one day I was thinking about my life and what I have been able to accomplish since joining AGSM. Suddenly, I saw the parallel. My son is still living and making an impact, through me. How humbling! Now I am suddenly even more eager to continue with the path I chose 24 years ago; serving veterans, wounded warriors, their families and supporting other gold star mothers. It doesn't mean I wouldn't trade it in a heartbeat but it does help me put it into perspective a little better.

Now I'm going to switch gears a little. Have you ever known someone who seemed to be smiling all the time? My husband, Jim, is one of those. Even when he is in pain his mouth is set naturally into a smile. I know some GSMs who should try to practice smiling. I've been practicing and it does help. And sometimes people smile back. There is one mom I know and I have never seen her smile. So how is she feeling on the inside? Based on her conversation she is just as sad and unhappy as her face reflects. This is something we can work on. We should strive to show a positive side to the world. No one would want to join an organization that was full of sad faces and negative talk and behavior. As I traveled to the many different chapter and department meetings this past year, that was the one thing I noticed the most . Some moms were so pleasant and full of smiles and I know they were suffering just the same as any of us. I know because I listened to their stories. But they put a happy face on it......most of the time. We all need to try to smile more. Psychologists say that it will actually make us feel better.

So, if I can leave with one thought impressed upon your hearts and minds it would be this: one day we will have peace again; the war in Afghanistan will be over and we will have peace. I beg of you during this time of peace don't forget to reach out to the military families when they lose a loved one. Remember the statistics I quoted for the Cold War, over 20,000 deaths in a 20 year period? If we had been reaching out during the Cold War this organization would be overflowing with mothers . We would truly be a vital organization to be reckoned with. We would not be sitting in the second row behind the VIPs. We would BE the VIPs. We would be trying to find the largest hotel in town to hold our convention. We will always have military related deaths as long as we have a military to protect our freedom. I asked you in my first speech to reach out. Now I'm going to ask you again to reach out with a smile and a friendly word long into the future. Thank you for allowing me to serve you this past year. May God Bless You All.

Norma
nluther@ec.rr.com
910.784.9679

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