In the three decades since the Vietnam War, Spokane’s Gold Star Mothers had all but disappeared. Only a handful remained when the chapter was dissolved several years ago.
“If we had known this Iraqi thing was coming along, we would have waited,” said Myrtle Sherburn, 85, a past president of the Gold Star Mothers in Spokane.
Now, amid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new group of six mothers has formed, bound by the shared sorrow of losing a child in the service of the nation.
“When one of your kids is killed in action, they kind of find you – other mothers that understand,” said Kim Cole, whose son Marine Cpl. Darrel J. Morris died in January 2007 in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
Brought together by a Time of Remembrance ceremony for the families of the fallen last year in the Tri-Cities, six Eastern Washington mothers are applying for a new charter with American Gold Star Mothers Inc., an organization founded in 1928 by Washington, D.C.-area women who lost children in World War I.
The Spokane chapter was chartered in October 1947, said Sherburn, whose son, Hugh “Buzz” Sherburn, was killed in 1969 when his reconnaissance plane was shot down during the Vietnam War.
“There were only about four of us left before the Iraqi thing started,” Sherburn said on Friday. “We had to give up our chapter. We didn’t have enough mothers still alive and able to take care of everything.”
Today, a new generation of Gold Star Mothers will enter a float in the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, said Cole, who said the group also is raising money to create a banner for each of the 120 soldiers from Washington who has died in the current conflicts.
About 38 banners have been made at a cost of $85 each. They will be carried by North Central and Ferris high school students behind the Gold Star Mothers’ float, Cole said.
“Our goal is to ensure they are never forgotten,” said Donna Vaughn, whose son, Michael Boswell, of Newport, died while serving in the U.S. Navy at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, S.C., in 2006.
Vaughn and Rosanne Love, whose son, Marine Pfc. Dennis Mitchell II, of Spokane, died while training in Okinawa in 2004, feel a particular affinity to the group. The fact that their sons did not die in Iraq or Afghanistan does not lessen the pain, Love said.
As Cole pointed out, “They all died for the same reason, just different circumstances.”
Vicki Stickney’s son, Pfc. Blake Samodell, of Davenport, an Army Ranger, died in a Fort Lewis training accident in 2005 after serving a tour in Afghanistan.
“I’m just so proud of these boys,” she said.
The mothers hope to meet several times a year, drawn by the camaraderie of loss, said Susan Henderson, whose son, Army Spc. Robert Benson, was the first Army soldier from Spokane to be killed in Iraq, in November 2003.
“That first three years, there were not many mothers around,” Henderson said, stressing the importance of “being able to talk to somebody who knows what I’m going through.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Gloria Hackwith, whose son, Army Chief Warrant Officer Clint Prather, died in Afghanistan in the 2005 crash of a Chinook helicopter.
Hackwith said she had gone to group counseling sessions for her grief, but each time she had to repeat her story to new members of the group.
“I couldn’t go every week and say the same things over and over,” she said. “These moms know exactly how you feel.”