Blue Star Mothers of America   
San Diego North County Chapter
In the News                                                               

Gold to Grace Merlo's Grieving Family
January 18, 2008
Photo courtesy of www.flickr.com
A Blue Star Mother hangs a blue star flag in pride and honor of her child serving in the war.

Kathryn Hood, president of the San Diego Blue Star Mothers, waits for word from the Casualty Assistance Officer of fallen soldier Pfc. Ivan Merlo before ordering his family a Gold Star flag. Merlo, a 2006 graduate of San Marcos High School, died during combat on Jan. 8 while fighting insurgents north of Baghdad. Although it is one of the traditions of the Blue Star Mothers to present Gold Star flags to grieving military families, it is also its policy to receive verification that the family would like to be presented with the banner. In the meantime, Hood and the other mothers of the group are putting together a condolence book for Merlo’s family.

The significance behind the Gold Star flag dates back to WWI. With two sons on the front lines, Capt. Robert Queissner designed and patented the blue star flag for families to hang in their windows as a way to signify the love, pride and hope they felt for their children serving in the war. If a child was killed, families would change their blue star to gold. The changing of the flag reflects the life-altering effect the loss has on families.

The San Diego Blue Star Mothers work together as a support system for parents and members of the Armed Forces. Blue and Gold Star mother Sandra Aceves found comfort and strength in the group of women after her son Petty Officer Third Class, Fernando Mendez-Aceves was killed in Iraq in 2004 while conducting combat operations in the Al Anbar Province. Gold Star mothers like Aceves will advise Hood on the appropriate time to approach the Merlo family should they want to receive the flag.

Hood established the chapter in San Diego after her son, 1st Lt. Justin Hood was commissioned as an officer. Although her son has not yet been deployed, she deals with the anxiety of his impending deployment with encouragement from group members who have experienced the deployment of a child themselves.

Hood was recently presented the Channel 10 Leadership Award for her contribution to the San Diego military community. While honored to have received the award, Hood attributes the success of the group to the other women who make up the San Diego Blue Star Mothers. Whether it's sending care packages, giving other members support, visiting wounded warriors in the hospital or welcoming service members home from deployment, the Blue Star Mothers are uniting the military community with comfort on the homefront and overseas. –Erin Murphy

By Kathryn Hood

President
San Diego North County Blue Star Mothers
Proud Marine Mom

Published in the May 2006 Issue of The County Review

In January of 1942 the Flint News Advertiser printed a coupon asking Mothers of serviceman to fill it out and return it. That following February 300 mothers met for the first time. It was decided after receiving more than 1000 responses from the ad that a permanent organization should be formed. In June of 1960 the organization was chartered by Congress. Blue Star Mothers of America is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization being non-political, non-partisan and we do not endorse any religious organization.

The Blue Star Service flag was designed in 1917 by an Army Captain in Ohio whose 2 sons were serving on the front lines. It quickly became the unofficial banner of having a child in service. Each blue star representing a child serving. It is hung during a time of war and we as Blue Star Mothers still proudly display this service flag in our widows letting all who see it know that we support those who are dearest to us as they offer themselves in the service of our great country. It is a reminder of the courage and commitment of our sons and daughters. A blue star becomes gold if a service member is killed or dies while on active duty. We never want to forget our Gold Star families whose children don’t come home.

The San Diego North County Blue Star Mothers was formed in September of 2005 consisting of local mothers whose children are serving or have served in the United States Armed Forces. Our mission, in a broad sense is the support of troops, their families, the advocacy of Veterans issues and the promoting of patriotism. This is done through various activities such as fund raisers, the sending of packages to military hospitals abroad and to individual service personnel at the request of a friend or family member, donation drives and the attendance of local city events to promote public awareness.

When my own son commissioned in December 2004 as a 2nd Lt. in the Marine Corps I immediately started looking for a support group to join. I'd had years to prepare for this season of my life since he has wanted to fly for the military since he was 4 years old and that goal never wavered. He told me of the Blue Star service flag so I began researching it on the internet I came across the national web site (www.bluestarmothers.org) and sent in my application. I eventually got word back that the closest Chapter was several hours away and that’s when I decided to establish one in the San Diego area. I contacted a friend whose son is serving in the Army and together we spread the word and put an ad in the local paper announcing our first meeting. That meeting brought together our 6 founding members to become an official Chapter.

One of our first projects was the sending out of about 100 boxes to a hospital in Iraq. Items such as writing paper, pens, tooth brushes, tooth paste, reading material, candy, cookies, cameras, and comforts from home were sent ahead of an Army unit on its way to that particular hospital. We later learned that on the way they were separated from their sea bags and when they arrived they were without any of their personal belongings. Fortunately, our boxes had arrived. The note we received back said, “What a wonderful surprise to receive your care packages. Everyone dug in and grabbed something they needed.” It was a great start for our small group.

Having a child, my only child, serving in the military has brought about some unwanted but necessary topics of conversations. Such as his making out a will, how and where he would like to be buried should he be killed, memorial service instructions. Although we as mothers would like to believe our children will outlive us that’s not always the case. His own mortality has been brought to the forefront I try to prepare myself of how I would react in the event a strange car pulls into the driveway with two Marines in it but I don’t believe one can really prepare for that, we can only be aware of its possibility. I, along with so many other mothers, am intensely proud of my son. Not only for his willingness to serve his country and protect our freedoms, but for the character it took for him to be where he is today. His path was not an easy one, with many roadblocks that he had to get over but he persevered and is now living his dream of 20 years.

I was recently singing “America the Beautiful” and as I was singing, a phrase hit me as it never had before. In fact, I don’t think I even paid attention to it until Justin joined the Marines and then it became very real to me. It is an accurate description of our sons and daughters who willingly put themselves in harms way. It says,

“Oh beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!”

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