American Gold Star Mothers of SWFL: Honoring Through Service by Kim Hayes

Miss Polly, third from left

In the spring of 2017, and grieving the recent death of my son, I received a welcome phone call: “Hello dear heart, this is Carlynn ‘Polly’ Crews. I am the oldest Gold Star Mother in the state of Florida…” Little did I know how that phone call would change my life.

Polly shared about receiving that horrible knock at the door in 1968. Her beloved son, Sergeant Robert Louis Crews, had been killed in Vietnam. Other than support from her faith and family, she had largely grieved alone. At 91, Polly was petite, with tenacity softened by southern charm. She had a singular purpose: starting a local chapter of the national organization American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

“Miss Polly” was not the first to recognize that sorrow provides a powerful fuel for service. In 1928, Grace Darling Siebold founded American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. While volunteering at her local VA hospital, she learned of her pilot son George’s death in World War I. At that time, families would display a banner with a blue star for each member serving in the military. If they died, a gold star was placed over the blue one to honor their sacrifice. Serving alongside other Gold Star mothers, Grace recognized the mutual benefit of aiding those with whom they had such a deep heart connection.

In that same spirit, Miss Polly’s dream was realized in the Spring of 2017 when the Southwest Florida Chapter of American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. was formed. As a 501(c)3, our service in Naples has included assisting homeless veterans, providing holiday meals for veterans in transitional housing, awareness/support for PTSD, female veteran support, school supplies for children of veterans in need, and CPR training for JROTC cadets.

There is no organization like American Gold Star Mothers which, while actively serving, simultaneously reaches out to new Gold Star Mothers who are grieving and feel alone. We are able to provide “boots on the ground” hands-on tasks, where new, grieving moms can honor their fallen son or daughter, and hopefully begin to heal.

We currently have seventeen mothers (and family associates) in this group that no one wants to be eligible to join. Criteria for membership is having a son or daughter who died during United States active duty military service, or officially as a result of their service (as determined by
the VA). Our fallen sons and daughters died in various locations, by various means, and represent every branch of the military.

We often wear white, and hope that our presence at public events reminds a sometimes forgetful public about the very real cost of freedom. We get tired and discouraged, but we are mothers. We will always say the names of our sons and daughters, and commit to honor their lives by serving our local veterans, the military community, and one another.

Kim Hayes is the mother of SPC Steven Taylor Hayes, US Army (8/23/1990-8/1/2016) and President, SWFL Chapter of American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

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