After son's war death, keeping his memory alive
By ERIN E. ARVEDLUND | The Philadelphia Inquirer (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 20, 2015
Carol Resh and her husband, Charlie, were retired, living out their travel dreams, driving around Florida in an RV.
Then two Army officers showed up at their campground.
Her heart dropped. She knew her son, Army Capt. Mark T. Resh, a helicopter pilot, was serving in Iraq. They had just seen him stateside a few weeks earlier.
"I told Mark during that last visit, 'I don't want you to go back - I don't know why,' " she recalls. "He told me, 'Mom, don't believe everything you read in the paper.' This was 2007. He might think differently now. But at the time he believed in what he was doing."
The officers brought the worst news: Her son's helicopter had been shot down; he had been killed in action.
Today, Carol Resh is president of the Pennsylvania chapter of American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of women whose sons or daughters have died while serving the nation in times of war or conflict. The group dates back to World War I.
The Reshes live in Whitehall, Lehigh County, not far from where Carol retired from Kraft Foods and her husband retired from Verizon. She works to keep the 170 members of Gold Star Mothers around Pennsylvania connected, especially those who have lost children in the last year.
Why spend her retirement doing this work? Why not give into the grief or disappear from view?
"Most of the Gold Star families don't want their children to be forgotten," she says. "It's something we live with every day. It's OK to ask us about our children. Don't be afraid to talk to us.
"Ask me about my son. I love talking about him," she adds with a laugh.
Born in 1978, Mark Resh graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh on a ROTC scholarship. He was an Eagle Scout and played soccer. His goal was to fly the Apache helicopter for the Army, and he realized that dream.
Commissioned in May 2001, he was stationed in Germany and deployed in Iraq from May 2003 to July 2004. He deployed for a second time in October 2006 and died Jan. 28, 2007, in Najaf, Iraq.
"He said his goal was to buy a BMW Z4, and buy a house, which he lived in for only a few weeks. But he reached his goals. He was a goal-setter, and he did more in his 28 years than most people do in a lifetime. As much as we miss him, we're proud of him. He had a good life - it was just short," Carol Resh says.
For mothers whose children commit suicide while in the military, the grief is compounded by self-recrimination and questions, she says. Some die in service accidents or even of heart attacks while in the service. Resh wants more mothers to get in touch with her and receive support.
"I got a letter in the mail from Gold Star Mothers soon after Mark died," she recalls.
"It was a year before I was ready to join. We didn't have a local chapter that was active, and I liked doing volunteer work and helping other veterans," Resh says.
"Girls from all over the state come together, and we talk about what we have done, what we want to support in the coming year."
The hardest time is the holidays, Resh says.
"Everybody handles grief differently. You go through the holidays, you don't have them there. The second year, it's worse, because now it's reality. It's the 'new normal,' as my husband called it."
Still, Resh says, "you stop crying every day. It took a long time to laugh. The new moms don't know they can go on. That's what your children would want."
There are 11 chapters of American Gold Star Mothers in Pennsylvania, and Resh will serve as president until May 2016. (There are five chapters in New Jersey.)
"I needed to pay back everyone who was so helpful to us. To support the new moms and let them know it does get better even though you don't think so the first year," she says.
Gold Star Mothers Day is observed on the last Sunday of September, this year on Sept. 27.
Founder Grace Darling Seibold realized that self-contained grief is self-destructive. She started American Gold Star Mothers after losing her son in World War I. According to the group's history, she organized a circle of mothers with the purpose of comforting one another and giving care to veterans being treated in government hospitals.
The organization was named after the gold star that families hung in their windows in honor of deceased veterans.
Resh and her local group of Gold Star Mothers are raising money through yard sales and other fund-raisers that they then donate to veterans groups. Among their favorite beneficiaries this year are Vets for Vets, Valor Clinic, and Wreaths Across America.
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Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, the commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, presents the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for valor, to the parents of Capt. Mark Resh, Charlie and Carol Resh from Fogelsville, Va., during a ceremony held at Fort Hood, Texas's Cooper Field March 26, 2008.
JEFFREY LEDESMA/U.S. ARMY PHOTO