By Danielle Ozbat
“Life is art. Paint your dreams. Sing your song. Enjoy the dance.” That’s an inscription on a Midlothian art studio, Art Factory and Party Place, that was the setting for the fifth annual Gold Star Mother’s Day event.
Gold Star families have been in the media lately but despite this recognition, many people are still unaware of the term.
Gold Star Mother’s Day was officially established in 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and it is observed annually on the last Sunday of September.
A Gold Star family is one that has lost an immediate family member or loved one to war, and the origins can be traced back to World War I. During times of war, families of active duty members would hang service flags with blue stars in the window of their home. But if the military member was killed in combat, the blue star would be replaced with a gold one. Gold Star families are also given a Gold Star lapel pin, which has a purple background surrounded by a gold wreath.
Angela Bellamy has and extensive amount of experience with Gold Star families, as she is the Survivor Outreach Services support coordinator for Fort Lee. Bellamy is the long-term support person for survivors and coordinates support groups and events for Gold Star families. This is her fourth year coordinating a Gold Star Mother’s Day event, and she said it is important for people to be educated on Gold Star families.
“It’s important that we get the word out … [about] what a Gold Star family [is] so they understand the sacrifice and they can see that a [parent] or spouse has experienced the loss of their loved one for serving our country,” Bellamy said.
For this year’s event, the mothers, and a Gold Star father, Larry Sprader Sr., whose son Sgt. Lawrence G. Sprader Jr. died during a training accident in June 2007, painted pumpkins for the fall and Bellamy chose it to maintain the yearly memorial theme; last year the mothers received quilts with their children’s mementos and trinkets sewn into them.
“Every year we do something that’s somewhat of a memorial and this year I thought that it would be better to take the mothers away and do something for them … [that] would make them feel good,” Bellamy said. “There are studies that painting helps with grief, so [it was] just a fun time for them.”
According to the mothers in attendance, Bellamy makes the annual event fun.
Tina Houchins – her son, Cpl. Aaron D. Gautier, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007 – said she had a good time because the Gold Star Mothers are like a family; she said it is important for Gold Star families to be in the media.
“I think it brings light to what [a] Gold Star [family] is and I think it helps educate people,” Houchins said.
Carol Wittman, whose son, Sgt. Aaron X. Wittman, was killed in Afghanistan three years ago, said it was her favorite Gold Star Mother’s Day event so far because she likes to paint.
“I had a great time, it was something I’m interested in,” Wittman said, “I like painting … so when they said they were gonna do a painting night, I was very excited about it. I love the subject of fall, so when they told us we were painting pumpkins, I was pretty excited.”
Wittman said she enjoys getting together with the other Gold Star Mothers because there is a lot of camaraderie, agreeing with that was Debbie Leach. Whose son, Spc. Richard L. McNulty III, was killed in Afghanistan when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. She said Gold Star Mother’s Day events are good opportunities to get together will parents in the same position as you.
“It’s always something to look forward to we always have a good time when we’re together,” Leach said.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie; we all suffered the same loss, we all lost one of our kids, so you’re among people that get it [and] … understand what you’re going through.”
Though Mary Reed does not enjoy painting like Wittman, she said it helped to take her mind off her grief and that she enjoyed being with the other mothers.
“It’s always … very comforting [for me] because … everyone there understands how you’re feeling even though we may all express it in different ways,” Reed said, “But you feel totally comfortable being with the other mothers because they don’t judge you; they know [how you feel].”