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Groups aim to assist families of veterans and service members

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 6, 2015

 Gold Star mother Ursel Mayo, of Shelby Township, and granddaughter Elece Vander Geld, of Shelby Township, 12, light a luminaria at VFW Post 4037 on Maple Road Sept. 27 in honor of Moneeka Mayo Vander Geld, who was killed in service to her country.

Gold Star mother Ursel Mayo, of Shelby Township, and granddaughter Elece Vander Geld, of Shelby Township, 12, light a luminaria at VFW Post 4037 on Maple Road Sept. 27 in honor of Moneeka Mayo Vander Geld, who was killed in service to her country.

Photo by Donna Agusti

It’s a group nobody wants to be a member of.

The mission of the American Gold Star Mothers Inc. is to provide support, information and services to those who have lost loved ones in the armed forces in the service of their country.

The group also promotes events and other memorials and tributes to honor fallen heroes.

Troy resident Sal Haji serves as field operations coordinator for the Freedom Center, a hospitality center for servicemen and women being processed for travel.

While Haji’s son Brandon, a Troy Athens graduate who served as a corporal in the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, came home, a friend he served with did not.

Haji was on hand at VFW Post 4037, 2375 E. Maple Road, in partnership with the Freedom Center in Troy, for Gold Star Family Day Sept. 27 to light luminarias to honor fallen heroes.

“The Gold Star Mothers recognize the last Sunday of each September and light luminarias to pay tribute to the families,” Haji said.

“It was so neat looking along Maple Road,” said Howell resident Carol Johnson of the luminarias. “It was the night of the eclipse.”

Johnson serves as department president of the American Gold Star Mothers Inc., Michigan Chapter. She lost her son, Army Staff Sgt. Gregory McCoy, who served as a military policeman, when the Humvee he was in rolled over an improvised explosive device nine years ago in Iraq.

“Some days it’s OK and some days it’s not OK,” she said of her loss. Her son’s wife is remarried to her son’s commanding officer, now retired.

“It’s kind of neat that somebody that knew their father is raising his boys,” Johnson said of her two grandsons.

Johnson has served as president of the organization for three years, taking over for Valerie May, who had served as president for 17 years and lost her son in Vietnam.

Johnson explained that fathers and family members of those who have lost family in the armed forces may join the group as associate members.

Johnson said that the Gold Star Mothers have been active since the late ’20s.

She said that for many members, the group allows them to still feel connected to the military.

“We help out at veterans hospitals and clean headstones at military cemeteries,” she said. “We help out other moms. It helps to have other moms understand what you’re going through.”

The Gold Star Mothers sponsors Wreath Across America, in which wreaths are placed on the graves of fallen military men and women the second Saturday in December.

Johnson has joined 1,300 other volunteers at the Great Lakes National Military Cemetery in Holly, where over 26,000 are interred, to help to place wreaths on the graves.

This month, the Michigan Armed Forces Hospitality Center, in support of the Freedom Centers, will host a gala 7-10 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Defense Corridor Center for Collaboration and Synergy, 7205 Sterling Ponds Court in Sterling Heights, in support of a new center at Detroit Metro Airport. Tickets cost $50 and include a strolling buffet. People can purchase tickets at the door or by sending checks to Gala Fund Raiser 2015, care of Freedom Center, 2581 World Gateway Place, Detroit, MI 48242.

Chuck Gaidica of WDIV-TV will serve as master of ceremonies.

“Cash donations and donations to the raffle for the event are welcome,” said John Kroll, donation coordinator for the Freedom Centers. To contribute following the event to support the Freedom Centers, call Kroll at (810) 545-8343.

To contribute to Wreaths Across America, visit www.wreaths acrossamerica.org or send checks to Wreaths Across America, Michigan, P.O. Box 326, Fowlerville, MI 48836.