Norfolk mom of USS Cole bombing named American Gold Star Mothers leader
By BROCK VERGAKIS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: July 5, 2019
NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The mother of a sailor who died during the 2000 attack on the Norfolk-based USS Cole recently became the first black person to be named national president of American Gold Star Mothers.
Her goal during her one-year term: make the 91-year-old support group and service organization more diverse.
Mona Gunn, of Norfolk, joined the group after her son, Seaman Cherone Gunn, was killed in a terrorist bombing of the destroyer Cole while it was in port in Yemen.
During the group's national convention in New Mexico on Sunday, she told members they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities who have lost sons or daughters while serving their country.
"I encourage you to work together within your chapters to bond with each other and find those moms who are not members and invite them to join, giving special attention to moms of color so the face of this organization will look like the faces of the fallen, the faces of the veterans we serve and the faces of the active duty military we support," Gunn said in her acceptance speech.
Gunn noted that a Congressional report found that between 15% and 18% of victims from the Vietnam War and Global War on Terror are people of color. She suggested her organization should reflect that figure and that its overall membership should reflect the number of casualties from recent conflicts.
"There are some Vietnam moms who are doing well in their 80s and 90s, and we still have an opportunity to invite them to join," Gunn said. "We must reach out our hearts and hands and connect with mothers whether their child’s deaths were combat or non-combat deaths and invite them to join."
American Gold Star Mothers was formed in 1928 for mothers who lost someone in World War I and holds a congressional charter. Membership is open to any woman who is a U.S. citizen or legal resident that has lost a son or daughter in active service in the U.S. military, regardless of where the death occurred or if it was combat related.
The term gold star dates back to World War I. Families of service members would fly a flag with a blue star for each family member serving in the armed forces during the war. If that loved one died, a gold star replaced the blue star, according to the Army.
"We were chartered as a nonprofit 91-years ago, and every day I’m sure many of you meet someone who doesn’t know about this organization nor the meaning of the Gold Star," said Gunn. "We have been behind the rocks, and it’s time for us to come out. Coming out means making bold changes. Changes that must be made for the future of this organization."
In addition to attracting more minorities, Gunn said she would focus on retaining members, reinstating inactive ones and encouraging new ones to join. She also is calling for national service projects that aligns the volunteer work of local chapters with each other.
"We will have a greater impact across the country if all chapters embraced the same service projects. It will show a unified effort and attract donors to fund what we do," Gunn said.
Gunn said three projects the organization could work on nationally include making quilts for wounded warriors, pinning and thanking Vietnam veterans and creating care packages for deployed troops.