Monica McNeal’s son, Eric Levi Ward, left her a short task list to undertake in the event that he did not return from war. On February 21, 2010, that list became her official charge, when Lance Corporal Eric Ward stepped on an IED.
It was through her own journey of loss that McNeal now finds herself the President of the Washington State chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers. Gold Star Mothers is an organization that exists with the overarching goal geared towards the remembrance of lost children, among other finely honed criteria.
Gold Star Mothers came into existence officially in 1928, when twenty-five mothers to children who died in combat came together to formally form an organization rooted in their shared goals and histories. The name comes from a long-standing American tradition of displaying services flags in homes with blue stars which indicate the number of members of the household serving in the armed forces. When a son or daughter died while engaged in action against an enemy of the US, family members would bring down their service flag and hand-stitch the gold over the star representing their fallen loved one.
“The idea of the gold star was that the honor and glory accorded the person for the supreme sacrifice in offering for his country, the last full measure of devotion and pride of the family in this sacrifice, rather than the personal loss which would be represented by the mourning symbols.”
Now in her fifth year as President and the ninth year since losing her son, McNeal is still going strong. “It’s kind of who I am,” she shares. In the aftermath of the loss of her son, she did go on to complete the short task list left to her, then took hold the mantel of social enterprise that lead her down the path towards presidency of the chapter. “I’ve never good a good participant… It aligns with my mission, making a difference in the lives of others.”
Locally, you can find members carrying banners in parades, organizing speakers at events, at pinning ceremonies, or even quilting for WWII veterans. At this particular time, McNeal and the other 800 or so families in the Washington State chapter are working towards two monuments for Seattle and Walla Walla, dedicated to fallen heroes and their families. Behind closed doors and in areas hushed by loss, they’re reaching out via phone or in person to families of the recently fallen, to offer support and care, to help them gain access or resources in the community, or just lend a hand.
If you want to become involved, it can be as simple as just calling the number on their page or finding them on social media. If you are among the staggering number of families affected by the loss of a loved one, even if they’re MIA, you are encouraged to connect in any capacity you find yourself able.
The charter granted to American Gold Star Mothers by the 98th Congress of the United States, in 1984:
- Keep alive and develop the spirit that promoted world services.
- Maintain the ties of fellowship born of that service, and to assist and further all patriotic work.
- Inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, State, and Nation.
- Assist veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and other strategic areas and their dependents in the presentation of claims to the Veterans' Administration, and to aid in any way in their power the men and women who served and died or were wounded or incapacitated during hostilities.
- Perpetuate the memory of those whose lives were sacrificed in our wars.
- Maintain true allegiance to the United States of America.
- Inculcate lessons of patriotism and love of country in the communities in which we live.
- Inspire respect for the Stars and Stripes in the youth of America.
- Extend needful assistance to all Gold Star Mothers and, when possible, to their descendants.
- To promote peace and good will for the United States and all other Nations.
Special thanks to Monica for her contribution to this article. Further Attribution goes to the Dallas Chronicle and the VFW.