Deaths unite Gold Star Mothers
Area chapter started for mothers of military sons, daughters killed in action
Shirley Hemenway felt isolated.
The Shawnee resident had just lost her son, Ronald Hemenway, to the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Her life was changed forever, and she wasn’t quite sure how to deal with that.
“I felt so detached,” she said. “People start to avoid you. They don’t know what to say, so they avoid you.”
That feeling remained until Hemenway decided she wanted to make a change. She wanted to honor her son’s memory and get through the grieving process by helping soldiers just like her son who were in need of assistance.
That’s when she found the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of mothers whose sons and daughters served and died while in the armed forces. And Hemenway was in luck. A fellow mother of a fallen soldier was about to start a chapter nearby.
The North East Kansas Gold Star Mothers had a chapter chartering and officer induction on Sunday, Dec. 14, at Fort Leavenworth.
Diana Pitts, whose son David M. Unger died Oct. 17, 2006, was like Hemenway and was looking for a way to connect with other mothers in her situation. When doing research, she found that the closest Gold Star Mothers chapter was in Wichita, so Pitts decided to start one closer.
Right now, the North East Kansas Gold Star Mothers has 11 members and four more in the process of joining.
“Our goal is, basically, it helps us honor our children with our support of veterans,” Pitts, who is the chapter’s president, said. “We assist veterans and support our country and heal with each other.”
So far, the group has volunteered at the VA Hospital in Leavenworth and helped with the holiday shopping program. The mothers in the organization sorted the items and then assisted the veterans as they shopped for their families. They then mailed those items because many of the veterans weren’t able to do it themselves.
The mothers have also attended a few funerals of fallen soldiers. Hemenway said they dressed in white and were there to let the families know they had support behind them.
“We Gold Star Mothers know that there’s nothing right to say and to just be there and listen,” Hemenway said. “It’s helping just knowing that someone is there, and has been there and maybe not walked the same exact steps as you have but sure have been through close to what you’re going through.”
Pitts said the organization was not meant to be a grieving group. She said that the fellow mothers understood what each other was going through, but the group was meant to turn that grief into something positive.
“We try to keep busy, especially this time of year. This is a good, positive way we can do that,” she said.
The more Pitts has become involved with the organization, the more she said she’s come to a realization about her son’s death. She said that her son was always known as the “Leavenworth, Kan. version of Jim Carrey.”
“He could always make everyone laugh and make anyone feel at home and loved,” Pitts said. “I realized that I make people laugh and make people feel comfortable. I continually have a heart that wants to give, and that is what helps me to remember David. Where his life stopped being to make people laugh, I’ve now picked it up.”