Tracy Copeland, Union, very often can’t be with her son or son-in-law, both active duty military, to help them with anything they might need as they serve the country, so she does the next best thing.
She volunteers with organizations like H.E.R.O.E.S. Care, which last weekend had a “Build a Care Package” booth at the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show in Chesterfield. People paid $40 to fill a box with necessity items that will be shipped to deployed service members.
It was a special experience to be part of and to watch, said Copeland, who was volunteering there as a member of the new Gateway Blue Star Mothers of Missouri and Illinois, the local chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America Inc., which dates back to 1942.
“People making the packages would write thank-you letters to include, and one mom put in a picture of her toddler who helped pack the box,” said Copeland.
The Gateway Blue Star Moms chapter held its first official meeting just a few months ago in February. The idea for the group grew out of a friendship Copeland and another military mother from central Illinois had forged over the last several years.
They had met at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in St. Louis as their sons were leaving for basic training in San Antonio. They later connected through the Military Moms site on Facebook, sharing thoughts and offering each other emotional support.
Then they started meeting every month or two for lunch, and soon a few more moms were joining them.
“We kept putting the word out on different military mom sites and sending personal invitations to those who were within driving distance,” recalled Copeland.
As more moms joined the regular gatherings, they decided to apply to make their group an official Blue Star Mothers chapter.
Volunteering Since 1942
The Blue Star Mothers of America Inc. dates back to Jan. 22, 1942, when the Flint News Advertiser printed a coupon asking mothers of servicemen to return the coupon after filling it out.
The next month, 300 mothers met in the Durant Hotel in Flint, Mich., with Capt. George H. Maines, who had conceived the idea for the group, overseeing the meeting. Once 1,000 responses from moms were received, they formed a permanent organization.
These moms volunteered throughout the tough times of World War II, working in hospitals, train stations, creating care packages. Today’s Blue Star Mothers do much the same thing, said Copeland.
The mission of the group is to “work together to honor, support and provide for the needs of our local military service members, veterans and the families who serve with them.”
The Gateway chapter is helping by volunteering with groups like the USO, Fisher House, VA hospitals and veterans homes, the Mission Continues, H.E.R.O.E.S. Care, Honor Flight and Blue-to-Gold Support. They also participate in military funerals and veterans assistance programs.
They create care packages for deployed troops, support families of active duty troops in the area, even touch base with recruiters and high school counselors so they can share information about the Gateway Blue Star Moms with anyone who enlists.
“It’s a support for the moms and a way for the moms to help their children, other troops and veterans,” said Copeland of the group.
The Blue Star image began as a flag moms would hang in the front windows of their homes. Nowadays, moms have the option of hanging a Blue Star window clings in their cars or wearing Blue Star pins or T-shirts.
There are other mothers groups specifically for servicemen who are injured or killed in the line of duty.
“We are the Blue Star Mothers, which means our kids have deployed,” Copeland explained.
“Silver Star Mothers is for moms of children who have been injured, and Gold Star Mothers is for moms whose children have been killed in action.”
There is no local Silver Star chapters, but there is a Gold Star chapter, and the new Gateway Blue Star Mothers hope to partner with them for activities, said Copeland.
Both groups are planning to be guests on an upcoming segment of Retired Maj. Mike Pate’s radio show on KLPW 1220 AM (Saturdays 2-3 p.m.). They will talk about their organizations, how they can help the community and each other.
Currently there are 20 active members, but there are as many as 80 moms who participate on the chapter’s Facebook page.
Copeland, who is the hospital chairperson for the group, meaning she is responsible for getting all the volunteers and items for the veteran hospital, said for her the benefit of being a Blue Star Mother is multi-faceted, but it begins with the emotional support it provides.
“It was another mom who understood where I was, the ups and downs, fears and joys of having a child actively serving in the military,” said Copeland.
“If you don’t have a family member who’s been in that situation, you just don’t quite understand.
“And if ever there’s an issue, you know that you can talk to one of the moms privately and you know that they totally understand where you’re coming from.”
There also is the added benefit of volunteering with groups who help or provide things for deployed servicemen, their families and other veterans.
“It just feels so good to be able to give back,” said Copeland, noting all of the veterans and service member groups they help are always in need of more volunteers and donations.
“If we can’t be with our children helping them, we know we are helping somebody’s child,” Copeland remarked.
Her son, Tyler Copeland, will mark three years in the Air Force this June. A 2011 graduate of Union High School, Tyler has been deployed once to the Middle East and currently is stationed in North Carolina where he’s a crew chief on the F-15s.
Her son-in-law, Seth Robinette, is a 2005 graduate of St. Clair High School. He is a member of the Marine Corps infantry and has deployed three times to the Middle East, but currently is stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.
The Gateway Blue Star Mothers meets the third Saturday of every month in Cottleville at Bemo’s Restaurant, which is a little less than an hour from the Union area.
The chapter covers a large area, from Lake of the Ozarks/Columbia in Missouri to south central Illinois. The next nearest chapters are in Springfield, Mo., and northern Illinois.
For the rest of the story, which appeared in the May 10-11 Weekend Missourian, subscribe to The Missourian.
At every meeting, aside from the regular business, the Gateway Blue Star Mothers take up a collection for a different organization. Last month it was for St. Louis Fisher House, which provides a home away from home for family members and caregivers of veterans who are undergoing extensive treatment and/or rehabilitation.
The women collected $100 to $150 worth of items from the Fisher House wish list.
In the future, the moms will hold fund-raisers to help mothers afford to attend their child’s basic training graduation.
The next meeting will feature a guest speaker from the USO and information on how the two organizations can work together to serve vets and active duty.
Military mothers who would like to get involved with the group or learn more about it can visit the group’s website, gatewaybsm.org, or send a message through the website.
The group also has a Twitter account (twitter@gatewayBSM) and an open Facebook page, www.facebook.com/GatewayBlueStarMothers.
Locally, people can look for members of the Gateway Blue Star Mothers chapter in Union’s Memorial Day Parade being held Monday, May 26.
Copeland was quick to point out that all military moms are welcome. Blue Star Mothers covers all branches of the military, and the member moms come from all different backgrounds and experience.
They all share one thing in common — support for each other and the troops.
“Everyone is really fired up wanting to do lots and lots of things,” Copeland remarked.
“We are tickled that we got a group of moms who are just as interested and passionate about it as we are.”