By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 26, 2013) -- This Sunday, the Army and the nation will, for the 77th time, turn their attention to mothers who have lost sons or daughters while fighting America's wars.
The Congress first created "Gold Star Mother's Day" in 1936 to honor those women whose children were taken from them as a result of war.
"The Gold Star Mothers, as well as all family members who bear the enormous burden of loss, will always be cherished members of our great Army family. We maintain our commitment to support these families while honoring the legacy of our fallen Soldiers," stated Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III in a tri-signed letter to the Army.
Donna Engeman, program manager of the U.S. Army Survivor Outreach Services, is also a "Gold Star Wife." She lost her military husband. She said just the letter from Army senior leadership -- proof that the Army recognizes the heartache of those who lost their loved ones -- is meaningful.
"The feedback we get is that this is very important to our Gold Star Mothers," said Engeman. "They tell us it's very heartwarming to them, it's comforting to them to be remembered and recognized by the Army."
The Army's Survivor Outreach Services provides access to support, information and services for those who have lost a Soldier. The services are provided at the closest location to where the survivor resides, Engeman said, and for as long as they desire.
In the nation's capital, the Army will join all Americans in support of the 2013 Gold Star Mother's Day. Memorial events will be held at Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknowns. Army leaders are also encouraging Soldiers, their families, and Army civilians to take time to remember both those who have given their lives in service to their country and the loved ones they have left behind.
Around the Army, Engeman said, many installations are having events to honor and recognize Gold Star Mothers. Included are various picnics, luncheons, and breakfasts.
"Gold Star Mother's Day is important because it's a day set aside to recognize mothers who have lost a son or daughter on active-duty service," Engeman said. "If you think about it, we have Mother's Day, every May. But when you have lost a son or daughter in service to our nation, Mother's Day is not the same. This day, Gold Star Mother's Day, is set aside to honor mothers who have lost a son or daughter who made the ultimate sacrifice. And it recognized the loss of our mothers."
Survivor Outreach Services works with more than 56,000 "survivors." That includes not just Gold Star Mothers, but also spouses -- like Engeman -- and other family members, including children.
"The Survivor's Outreach Services is kind of a big process, but a simple concept," said Hal Snyder, chief, Wounded and Fallen Branch, U.S. Army Survivor Outreach Services. "It's to continually link our surviving families to the Army for as long as they desire; that they remain part of the Army family. That is a promise that has been made to our surviving families and it is part of the job of SOS to honor that promise and to provide the services and support that link these families to the Army."
Engeman said services to Gold Star mothers and other surviving family members are provided by local resources such as support groups. The SOS works to put surviving family members in touch with those services, and can also coordinate counseling.
"Many of our survivors have asked for and sometimes need some financial counseling and education on how best to care for their families after the loss of their Soldiers," Engeman said. "We have extensive financial counseling and education available. Our job is really to get to know our survivors and develop a personal and professional relationship with them, and help them walk through their grief journey. As you get to know your survivors, you find out or you come to understand what they are looking for and what their needs are and we help them navigate that."
The SOS is available to surviving family members of Soldiers across the total Army -- including the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.
During World War I, families would hang flags in their windows that were white with red borders. Inside, a blue star would represent each family member who was serving in the military. When a service member was killed, the blue star was changed to a gold star. In 1947, the Gold Star Lapel pin was designed and created to be presented to eligible surviving family members of service members who died while deployed in support of overseas contingency operations, or who died from wounds sustained in theater.