Barb Bernard didn't know what a Gold Star Mother was until she received a letter in the mail after her 40-year-old son, SFC Brent Allen Adams, was killed in Ramadi, Iraq, on December 1, 2005. The Pennsylvania resident filled out the Gold Star Mother application and threw herself into the organization's goal of remembering veterans who lost their lives and championing the cause of every branch of service.
Attending her first Gold Star Mother function, a fundraiser for the Department of Pennsylvania, she recalls, "Seeing those moms, especially the Vietnam moms and the positive energy they displayed, gave me hope that I, too, could learn from their example and not wallow in my grief."
When she was elected president of the national Gold Star Mothers organization last year, she said to the assemblage, "Our journey together has presented many opportunities to share with each other how we felt after experiencing that heart-wrenching 'knock at the door' and repeat the stories of our children's lives."
Her son Brent had served in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard for almost 18 years, and Bernard recalls of the day he was killed, "One of his men had been on many dangerous missions in the previous days and was again assigned to take the mission on December 1, 2005. However, Brent told the soldier to stand down, that he would take the mission."
In addition to his parents, Brent Adams had left a wife and 4-year-old son Daniel. "Daniel was Brent's top priority," recalls Bernard. "He was a hands-on father, and they even had 'no women allowed' nights."
When Bernard learned about Wreaths Across America (WAA), the national nonprofit organization founded in 2007 to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, she met with WAA founders Morrill and Karen Worcester and became friends with the Harrington couple. She has participated in three of the WAA convoys from Maine to Virginia, including one last December in which, as grand marshall of the escort, she was driven by Hank Young of Eastport.
"I had volunteered my services for the convoy if they needed me for anything," recalls Young. "And the day before they left, they needed a driver to replace someone who had to drop out. I said it would be an absolute privilege, and my wife had me all packed and ready to go. I drove a Chevy Traverse on loan from the Quirks that was wrapped with a military scene at a cemetery."
Following ceremonies at West Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec and on the Ferry Point International Bridge in Calais on December 7, the eighth annual Wreaths Across America escort left Harrington the next morning on its one-week journey to Arlington with Patriot Guard Riders and State Police accompanying the convoy from Maine to Virginia.
Bernard recalls, "Hank was in awe of what you experience in the convoy -- the stops in little hometown America where people lined up in the streets and waited for the convoy to come through, even when it was dark."
Another passenger in the Quirk vehicle was Edith Knowles, a member of the Gold Star Sisters, whose brother, Cpl. Horace "Bud" Thorne, had been killed in World War II during the Battle of the Bulge and had been posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. "She was in tears when we stopped at a school in New Jersey named after her brother and because people were honking and waving at us when we drove by," recalls Young.
Snowstorms on the East Coast that week meant a lot of hazardous driving and long days during the trip to Virginia and Washington, D.C., but the weather did not prevent the public from coming out to watch the convoy go by or cancel the many programs and meals for the participants at schools, firehouses and American Legion halls along the way.
"I can't say enough about the kind of patriotism we saw in adverse weather when people still came out to support us," stresses Young. "I was surprised at how many people were waiting patiently in snow and rain at the side of the road, even at night."
In addition to the placement of more than 143,000 wreaths on the newer graves in Arlington, there were wreath-laying ceremonies in Washington, D.C., at all of the war memorials, including the one honoring those who died in Vietnam.
Young is a Vietnam War veteran, and it wasn't his first visit to the Vietnam War Memorial. On this occasion he left wreaths beside the names of his former squad leader, Staff Sgt. Patrick Emery, and his daughter's first serious boyfriend, Tom Witt. "It's very cleaning for people to know that their children are remembered," points out Young.
This Memorial Day Hank Young will make his annual drive down to Dedham, Mass., where he will participate in Chapter 9 New England Chapter 173rd Airborne Association vigil for Medal of Honor recipient John Barnes, who had served in Young's unit in Vietnam.
Bernard will be spending the Memorial Day weekend in the Washington, D.C., area where, among her activities, she will attend a White House breakfast, visit Arlington Cemetery and accompany Vietnam Gold Star moms to the Vietnam War Memorial. "I feel it's my obligation," says Bernard of the latter activity. "The wall is significant as a place of reverence."
She has some advice for those who forget that Memorial Day is an event to commemorate the dead. "They need to take the time to go to their cemetery. Take a moment to read that name and honor that person. That's what it's about. We have to remember the sacrifices of men and women who lost their lives in the military action of war."