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September 28,2012

Gold Star Mothers and Fathers are to be honored for their courage. The loss of a child is not just saying goodbye and getting on with life until closure comes. It is the two-fold loss of a child, and of the future.

After the end of World War I American mothers who had lost their sons in “The War to End All Wars” gathered an formed the “Gold Star Mother’s Club.” According to the Gold Star Mother’s website:

Shortly after World War I the Gold Star Mothers Club was formed in the United States to provide support for mothers that lost sons or daughters in the war. The name came from the custom of families of servicemen hanging a banner called a Service Flag in the window of their homes. The Service Flag had a star for each family member in the military. Living servicemen were represented by a blue star, and those who had lost their lives were represented by a gold star.

A Gold Star Mother is any American woman who has lost a son or daughter in service to the United States. By Presidential Proclamation to honor these Mothers, Gold Star Mother’s Day is observed in the U.S. on the last Sunday in September each year.

My mom was a Gold Star Mother. And my pappy was a Gold Star Father. I don’t really understand why there is no Gold Star Father’s day. My dad suffered as deeply as my mom. His heart, which still bore the partially-healed wounds sustained during World War II, was hacked apart again by my brother Don’s death. Dad never completely recovered and the pall of mourning never fully lifted from his countenance. In 1970 both of my parents endured the loss of their oldest son to the brutality of the Viet Cong, not unlike the parents of over 58,000 servicemen killed in Vietnam between 1961 and 1975.

I have referred to myself as a Gold Star Sister at times, just to abbreviate the truth that I lost a brother to war, never to assume the distinction of a parent who has lost their child violently and much too soon to combat or the freak happenstances that are part of war.  In fact, I thank God that I have never suffered as my parents suffered. I am the mother of four and the best 25 years of my life have been spent being their mommy, mentor, and friend. I would rather die than endure the death of one of my children. That is a loss so incomprehensible, a suffering so desolate, that to contemplate it brings a sense of revulsion to the mind. Gold Star Mothers and Fathers are to be honored for their courage. The loss of a child is not just saying goodbye and getting on with life until closure comes. It is the two-fold loss of a child, and of the future. For my parents the life of their son was gone, taken at the age of 22. But their plans, prospects, faith, and identities were buried, at least in part, with Don as well. Parts of them died and those parts were not retrievable. Such parents can adapt and take what is left of their hearts and hopes and try to rebuild something. But life can never be the same. The old family is gone, and if faith endures, something new, different, and always incomplete can be remade. There is no such thing as closure. There is only the mollifying effect of time.

My dad passed away in 1984 and left my mom a widow at the age of 58. He was not around in 1989 when the construction of a new Bachelor Enlisted Quarters (BEQ) was announced on the grounds of the Naval Base at San Diego, California. The BEQ was to be named Snyder Hall, in honor of my brother, Frederick Don Snyder. When word of this amazing honor came to my family we were a little bewildered at first. Little did we know the extent of his valor, the acts of heroism that set him apart from hundreds of other young men who had given their lives in combat. His name, Snyder, was chosen. The letter of invitation to the dedication of Snyder Hall read:

Dear Mrs. Snyder,

The Director of Naval History, from a list of naval heroes who served and gave their lives for their country, has recommended that the new Bachelor Enlisted Quarters at Naval Station San Diego be named in honor of your son, RD2 Frederick D. Snyder, USN.

The dedication of Snyder Hall was held on March 6, 1989, what would have been Don’s 41st birthday had he lived.

My parents lived simply. We never had much in the way of material things, so Mom and Dad never expected anything in return for the actions or sacrifices of their lives. My parents were quite shy in fact, and avoided the kind of attention that my mom received during the dedication in San Diego. The ceremony was strikingly reverent. The keynote address was given by VADM R.K. Kihune, the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Surface Fleet, and the event was presided over by Captain D.F. Berkebile, the CO of the Naval Station San Diego. These men walked with Mom to the entrance of Snyder Hall where she was honored to cut the ribbon and announce that it was officially open. It was a beautiful day, and my Gold Star Mother soaked up the tributes and emotions of the dedicatory activities.

But was there closure? No. There is no such thing. The loss of a child wounds the hearts of our Gold Star Mothers and Fathers, and even the most expertly bound and attended wounds are deeply scarred. We love our Gold Star Parents and Families because, like the young men and women who shed their blood for their country, they understand that some things are worth fighting for. When the United States of America calls men and women to battle they go willingly, knowing the cost of liberty might well be their lives.

by Marjorie Haun  9/28/2012


  1. Lindsey

    Beautifully said Aunt Marj. I was only around for the tail end of your story, but I remember the emotions that came up when the dedication happened.
    I am thankful to know that this life is not the end and that Grandma Shirley and Poppa Snick have had a reunion with Uncle Don and that which was taken from them is now theirs forever.

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