Sun City Gold Star Mother honored by executive board

By Marge Christianson
Special to Independent Newsmedia

Sun City resident Ginger Emerson is a Gold Star Mother.

Unlike the “gold stars” most received for academic achievement as children, Gold Star Mother status is something every military mother dreads.

Her son, Army Corporal Matthew J. Emerson, was killed less than one month before his 21st birthday in Mosul, Iraq. He had just received welcomed news — he would be coming home for Christmas. Instead, Cpl. Emerson was killed in action Sept. 18, 2007.

“I am left with feelings that are 50 percent deep, unyielding sadness and 50 percent deep, unyielding pride,” Ms. Emerson said.

She described her amazement and pride in the patriotic strength of the people of the United States — a strength she had not recognized previously.

“You don’t hear about it in the news, but it’s there. The support I received following Matthew’s death enlightened me,” she said.

In addition to being a Gold Star Mother, Ms. Emerson is a member of the John J. Morris American Legion Auxiliary Unit 62, 9847 W. Desert Cove Ave., Peoria. The unit was awarded the top national auxiliary award for its efforts in meeting the needs of active military, veterans, families and youth.

No stranger to the military, Ms. Emerson was a junior member of the American Legion Auxiliary as a young girl, having qualified through her World War II father and World War I grandfather. Living in Grandview, Washington, she and her husband, L.J., raised three children, including Matt, a son who she described as a “GI Joe kid.”

Cpl. Emerson enlisted in the Army before he graduated from high school and left that summer for basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“He had a passion for God and country and always knew that that was what he wanted to do,” Ms. Emerson said.

After graduating from basic training and advanced infantry training, Cpl. Emerson earned his Airborne wings by completing U.S. Army Jump School. He was then shipped to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. From there he was deployed with the 2/7 CAV to Iraq in 2006 and was killed less than one year later. Ms. Emerson discovered and joined the American Gold Star Mothers organization shortly after.

American Gold Star Mothers is an organization of mothers whose sons and daughters served and died while on active duty in the U.S. armed forces, or died as a result of such service, or were missing in action.

At its national convention in Long Beach, California in June, AGSM elected Ms. Emerson to its national executive board as flag bearer. Her first assignment was to join other board members and attend National Gold Star Mothers weekend in Washington D.C., conducted annually the last weekend of September. She participated in many activities hosted by AGSM there.

On Saturday, along with other Gold Star mothers, Ms. Emerson participated in a 2.2-mile Veteran Suicide Awareness Walk-A-Thon around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, risk for suicide is 22 percent higher among veterans when compared to U.S. non-veteran adults. Particularly startling, according to Ms. Emerson, is that risk for suicide is 2.5 times higher among female veterans when compared to U.S. non-veteran adult women. The walk concluded with a wreath laying ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Later that evening, AGSM hosted the Gold Star banquet at Fort Myer, with keynote speaker Dr. Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense under both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

On Sunday, there was a special wreath-laying by AGSM national President Becky Christmas and her family at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. This event was followed by the Gold Star Commemoration Ceremony on the amphitheater lawn. Dressed in Gold Star Mom white, Ms. Emerson was honored to be the flag bearer at this ceremony, where members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff attended, and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson was keynote speaker.

“I was honored to be part of such a wonderful event,” Ms. Emerson said. “But perhaps the best part of the weekend was that one of Matthew’s platoon buddies was able to attend some of the events with us.”

At a national level, American Legion Auxiliary members have dedicated themselves for nearly a century to meeting the needs of the nation’s veterans, military and their families both here and abroad. They volunteer millions of hours yearly, with a value averaging $2 billion each year.

As part of the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, ALA volunteers across the country also step up to honor veterans and military through annual scholarships and with ALA Girls State programs, teaching high school juniors to be leaders grounded in patriotism and Americanism.

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Editor’s Note: Marge Christianson is a public relations volunteer with American Legion Auxiliary’s John J Morris Unit 62, in Peoria.

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