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Holiday weighs on ‘Gold Star’ hearts

May 27, 2012


For Becky Lambert of Booneville, Memorial Day will always be the day she lost her son.

It was Memorial Day, May 26, 2003, and U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jonathan Lambert was in a Humvee convoy 20 minutes from Kuwait City, Kuwait, where a plane was waiting to take him back to Camp Pendleton in California. An oncoming Iraqi vehicle began flashing its lights at the Humvee to make the driver lose control, Becky said, and it succeeded. Jonathan was thrown halfway out of the vehicle and trapped under it in the ensuing accident, she said.

“The Marines came to see me on May 27, and he was taken off life support in Landstuhl, Germany on June 1, 2003, with his wife and me beside (him),” Becky said. “The worst feeling a mother can feel and see is when that switch is turned off and (you) watch your child leave you. Jonathan’s little daughter turned 2 (years old) the next day.”

Becky said she was alone at home when the Marines came to notify her, but she does not have to be alone anymore.

Becky is part of Mississippi’s Forever Faithful chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization where women whose children have sacrificed their lives in service to America can heal by helping each other and helping veterans in need.

Jean Allen McDavid of Starkville, a charter member of Forever Faithful, lost her son, U.S. Army Spec. Taylor McDavid, in a suicide bombing in Baghdad, Iraq which killed four other U.S. soldiers on March 10, 2008. Later that year, she said, she met Donna Bagwell, who founded the chapter that summer.

“Before Taylor was killed, I didn’t know what a Gold Star Mother was,” Jean Allen said. “It’s been a really good group for me. We visit one veteran’s home a month. We support veterans, (and) we support active military. It’s not just a pity group, a ‘We feel sorry for us’ group. We have a good time when we get together, but we have a common bond underneath there.”

Bagwell, president of the chapter from Pontotoc, lost her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Lucas Tucker, on June 8, 2005 when his Humvee hit a pothole created by an earlier IED explosion. The loss still weighs heavily on her heart, she said, but she and the other Gold Star Mothers find ways to lift each other up and even laugh.

“If we didn’t laugh, we would be in a looney bin somewhere,” Bagwell said. “Life goes on, and our boys would want it, too. They wouldn’t want us to sit in a corner and cry somewhere. You cope day by day. American Gold Star Mothers taught me that through helping others you help yourself heal, and this is just a way that I can carry on his mission: I can help others.”

Sheila Dayton of Columbus is a newcomer to American Gold Star Mothers. She said the group’s Memorial Day weekend meeting Saturday at Gulf States Manufacturing’s Gold Star Mothers Room was only her second meeting. Her son, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeff Dayton, died in a suicide bombing south of Baghdad during an ammunition search on April 29, 2004. Jeff’s death came nine days after Mother’s Day, Sheila said, and when Jeff called her that Mother’s Day, he told her his tour of duty was extended by 120 days.

“He said, ‘I can deal with it; I’ve been in this desert so long; it’s like home to me,’” Sheila said. “I told him ‘You keep your head down, kiddo.’ I used to tease him (like that) every time (he called). Sometimes I think about some silly thing he said or ... did, and I smile.”

Sheila said she was scared when she first came to American Gold Star Mothers, but so far she has been relieved to find the group is helping her laugh again, like Jeff would have wanted.

Pat Freeman of Caledonia said knowing her fellow Gold Star Mothers have all endured the same circumstances helps her heal. Her son, Army Staff Sgt. Brian Freeman, was killed by a car bomb outside Baghdad on Nov. 7, 2005 just weeks before Pat said he was supposed to come home early for Christmas.

“We had all these big plans,” Pat said. “Instead we had his funeral. Some people act like they want to avoid you when they find out. They say they understand. They don’t understand. They don’t have a clue.”

Pam Presley-Cousar of New Albany said it helps to know her son, Marine Cpl. Brandon Presley, was protecting his fellow soldiers when a suicide bomber killed him on Dec. 14, 2005. He was delivering ballots and water to Fallujah, Iraq when his convoy encountered another vehicle, she said. Every vehicle his convoy met was supposed to stop for a security check, she said, but this one didn’t.

Pam said Brandon left his vehicle to intercept the rogue vehicle with his gun raised, and it exploded.

“He was trying to stop it from hitting the vehicle (at the front of the convoy),” Cousar said. “He was the only one that was hurt. He could have stayed inside his vehicle, and he would have been fine. I’m sure a lot of people would have died because there would have been several people in the vehicle in front.”

Pam said her Christian faith has also helped her cope, offering the promise of seeing Brandon again one day. Jill Self of Pontotoc said her faith has also helped her in the years since her son, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. John Self, died the day after Mother’s Day in 2007 in an IED attack in Baghdad.

“Every day, he quoted Matthew 5:9: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’” Jill said. “That’s what I put on his tombstone. He told me he was not doing it for anyone but the children of Iraq, so one day they could know freedom like he did growing up.”

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