TWO DECADES OF DEDICATION
Blue Star Mothers supports their military children while offering friendship and fellowship to fellow mothersBY SHELBY LINDRUD West Central Tribune
WILLMAR — In the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as both active duty and reserve military personnel were being deployed to a dangerous combat zone, a group of dedicated women formed the first official chapter of Blue Star Mothers of America in Minnesota. Blue Star Mothers MN 1, based in Willmar, has been providing a way for mothers with service member children to come together from across western Minnesota.
“We have three main purposes. Our first purpose is to support each other and our children,” said Sharon Skaro, one of two founding members of MN 1 still involved with the group. “Our second purpose is to honor gold star families ... and then our third is to promote patriotism. Those are our three main purposes and they have not changed.”
The national Blue Star Mothers of America organization was formed in 1942 in Flint, Michigan. It was the early days of World War II, and the group was formed as way to bring together, and use, one of the strongest groups on the home front to assist with the war effort.
“It was to activate one of the most powerful groups in the United States and that was mothers,” Skaro said. “They did really good things, it was pretty amazing.”
The organization got its name from the flag banners, first created in World
The United States Congress officially recognized the national group as a veterans service organization on Jan. 6, 1960, issuing a congressional charter. Blue Star Mothers is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with nearly 200 chapters across the country, including six in Minnesota. Over the last two decades, the size of the MN 1 chapter has fluctuated. Currently, it has 11 mother members and two associate members. But their size hasn’t stopped them from their core missions.
Taking care of all the military sons and daughters
War I, that hung in the windows of families with children serving overseas. The blue stars on the banner showed how many children were serving, while a gold star signified one of those children, and the family, had made the ultimate sacrifice.
This small but dedicated group has continued supporting those serving overseas and promoting patriotism at home. Every month the group sends out care packages to those deployed — filled with snacks, personal hygiene products and well wishes from home.
They’ve also sent out Christmas boxes to any military personnel who were serving away from home. The boxes included such items as blankets with Minnesota
Members of Blue Star Mothers MN 1, the local Blue Star Mothers of America chapter based in Willmar, says the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of their May 18, 2023, meeting. The Blue Star Mothers group meets every month in Willmar
coordinate volunteer events, pack boxes that are sent to deployed troops with
Minnesota connection and provide support to each other.
iconography like loons and trees, stocking hats and knitted slippers. And there is a still a need, as military members continue to be deployed.
The group has attended several deployment ceremonies and welcome home celebrations over the years and held various activities and fundraisers supporting active duty and National Guard troops and veterans. Recently MN 1 held a meal and bingo event at Eagle’s Healing Nest in Sauk Centre. The facility provides a place for veterans to receive help and healing.
“It was very good for me to go, it was a very opening experience,” said member Jaime Gary, whose son has just recently enlisted. “I would want someone to take care of my son the way they are taking care of the veterans. I took away a lot from it.”
Assisting and supporting veterans, some dealing with mental or physical health issues connected to their combat service, is becoming increasingly important to the Blue Star Mothers. While the wars may be over, the impacts will be felt for years to come.
“That is why we need this, we need moms to take care of those people,” Gary said.
The MN 1 chapter also celebrates and commemorates the next generation of soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors. They have provided red, white and blue honor cords to high school graduates who have enlisted into the military for some time, and hope to grow the program in the future. This year, Willmar Public Schools has already requested 12 cords for seniors who have enlisted.
Cords will be given to seniors at New London-Spicer and MACCRAY as well.
“I think it is important to do,” member Elaine Hulstrand said.
Blue Star Mothers additionally work with other organizations, events and families who similarly support the military in various ways. The group supports member Tracy Clark, who is a Gold Star mother, with her annual scholarship
fundraiser in honor of her son, Ryane Clark, who was killed Oct. 4, 2010, while serving in Afghanistan.
The Ryane Clark Memorial Scholarship Foundation event will be held Sept. 9 at the American Legion post in New London. Then the second annual Fallen Heroes football game will be on Sept. 15,
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THIS MILITARY APPRECIATION MONTH
U.S. military service members are ready to be called upon at any time to protect the country, and May, which is Military Appreciation Month, is the perfect opportunity to express gratitude for their sacrifices
Military Appreciation Month was initially recognized by a U.S. Senate resolution in 1999. Although the entire month is designated to honoring past and present military members and their families, there are several holidays sprinkled throughout the month that honor service members, including Loyalty Day, VE Day, Military Spouse Appreciation Day, Mother’s Day, Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day.
“This year in particular, many more service members are overseas supporting NATO due to war in Ukraine. These deployments should be a reminder to all Americans of the importance of expressing our gratitude to the men and women in the military who sacrifice so much for us,” says Christopher Plamp, United Service Organizations (USO) senior vice president of Operations, Programs, and Entertainment and an Air Force veteran.
With its long history of keeping America’s military service members connected to family, home and country, the USO is providing five ideas for how to honor and support service members and their families. Say “thank you.” The simplest way to support service members is to thank them for their service. According to the Blue Star Families 2022 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, only one-third of active-duty families feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community.
APPRECIATION: Page 5
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You can send a message of support and encouragement to service members through the USO’s website.
“Acknowledging the immense challenges of military life can have a real, positive impact. The simple act of thanks can show military members that their work is valued and appreciated,” says Plamp.
Send a care package. Sending care packages with items such as snacks and hygiene products lets service members know that the American people are thinking of them, even from thousands of miles away. The USO Care Package program simplifies the process of sending military care packages, which can be complicated. You can support this program by making a monetary donation to the USO. Another option is to check out the USO Wishbook, where you can select a symbolic gift, such as a USO Care Package, from a catalog to be sent to service members. In 2022, the USO delivered 200,000 of these care packages globally. Support military spouses. Deployments are challenging for military
spouses. Aside from being separated from their loved ones, military spouses must also shoulder household responsibilities alone. For military families with children, this can be even more difficult. Offer to cook a family dinner or pick up groceries. Even simply reaching out to ask how they are doing can make a difference.
Volunteer. There are many challenging, but rewarding volunteer opportunities that serve the men and women in uniform, including with the USO, where you will see the impact of your support firsthand. Many USO locations need volunteers who can facilitate programs and events, and help ensure the military community has the resources and support they need to carry out their missions.
Donate. Show your support through the annual USO T-shirt campaign, which raises funds for the USO’s mobile and center operations, programs and entertainment, transition services and more. The campaign also builds awareness and understanding of military families. To learn more, visit www.uso.org/tshirt.
“From simple words of gratitude to hands-on volunteering, there are many ways to let service members who selflessly put their lives on the line every day know we value their service,” says Plamp.
which is a fundraiser for the New London-Spicer Educational Foundation for scholarships, including one named in Ryane Clark’s honor.
“We raised over $10,000 last year and it all went to the Educational Foundation fund at the school,” Clark said. “And we gave our first scholarship away this year.”
Partnering with other groups is something the Blue Star Mothers wants to grow in the future, as they see it as a way to increase outreach. They are always open to new projects and events.
“Partnering with others would be a wonderful thing,” said member Kimberly Jakes.
To continue being able to do projects and programs that meet the Blue Star Mothers’ three main purposes, the group will be selling brats at Cash Wise in Willmar from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 15. At the brat stand the group will also be giving out small, green and pink plastic military member toys with a prayer tied to them. It is a reminder to keep military members in people’s
thoughts and prayers.
Keeping military members, active duty or otherwise, in the public’s consciousness can be a bit difficult, especially when there isn’t a massive deployment of a local unit. Blue Star Mothers tries to be visible by driving in summer parades, helping at public community events and just reaching out.
“We are really looking at making more connections with people,” Jakes said.
Mothers supporting mothers
Blue Star Mothers isn’t just a group that sends out care packages and rides on floats in parades. It is also an important support group for the mothers themselves. It is a group where they can find someone to talk to, who understands what they are going through with their children far from home. Just knowing you can have someone to call at all hours of the day or night can be a great comfort.
“It is really nice to have someone who knows the language. It is a foreign language when your kid joins the military, you don’t know what all that means,” Skaro said. “Just keep listening, that is what they need.”
At their monthly meetings at Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar, the group starts by introducing themselves and sharing about their military children. The current group members have children who have retired from the Army and those serving in the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Minnesota National Guard. The moms are also able to tell stories about their children’s experiences — and their own as a military mom.
“We’ll help you hang on, we
are right there with you,” Jakes said.
As a new military mom, Gary appreciates having the support of other moms who have been where she is. While Gary’s son isn’t in a dangerous war zone, just having him gone and out of reach is hard. It will take getting used to for everyone not to have him home for holidays or on the weekends.
“It is still a transition. It is very new to us,” Gary said.
For Clark, whose son died
nearly 13 years ago, Blue Star Mothers still offers her much needed comfort and understanding.
“This is my support system, so I keep coming,” Clark said.
The local Blue Star Mothers chapter is always looking for new members. Only mothers who have children serving or have served can be voting members, but other family members can join as associate members.
They also don’t have to live near Willmar. One of the local group’s associate members is from South Dakota. Anyone interested or looking for more information can contact chapter president Mary Reitsma at email@example.com.
“We are much more inclusive than a group of moms,” Reitsma said.
Looking forward to its next years, the Blue Star Mothers plan to continue their support and advocacy for military personnel, veterans, their families and, of course, their mothers. They want to be a resource for people to get information and find help if they need it.
“We are looking to be there for each other,” Jakes said. “We are there for our kids.”
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT MEMORIAL DAY
METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION
Each year on the last Monday of May, Americans celebrate Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a federal holiday that honors and mourns American military personnel who died while performing their duties in service to the United States Armed Forces.
Memorial Day has a rich history and one that’s worth revisiting as the nation prepares to honor the sacrifices made by its military personnel over the centuries.
► Freed slaves played a role in the establishment of Memorial Day. The American Civil War is the deadliest military conflict in American history, as the Union and the Confederacy each suffered more than 800,000 casualties by the time the war ended in 1865. According to History.com, as the war drew to a close, hundreds of Union soldiers who were being held as prisoners of war died and were buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp in South Carolina. After the Confederate surrender, more than 1,000 now-freed slaves honored those recently deceased Union soldiers during a ceremony in which they sang hymns and distributed flowers. The ceremony was dedicated to the fallen soldiers and served as a precursor to what is now celebrated as Memorial Day.
► Confederate soldiers were honored, too. Confederate losses during the Civil War outnumbered Union losses, and those losses were not forgotten by southerners who survived the war. History.com notes that, in 1866, the Georgia-based Ladies Memorial Association, one of many similar organizations to arise in the aftermath of the war, pushed for a
day to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. In fact, these efforts are believed to have influenced General John A. Logan. In 1868, General Logan, a Civil War veteran who was then serving as commander-in-chief of a group of Union veterans, ordered the decoration of Union graves with flowers on May 30. The day would ultimately be known as “Memorial Day.”
► It took a long time for Memorial Day to become a federal holiday. Despite tracing its origins to the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Memorial Day did not become an official federal holiday until 1971, more than a century after the war ended. This is the same year the holiday was officially designated as taking place on the last Monday in May. The designation has periodically drawn the ire of veterans and military supporters who suggest it is now more widely seen as the unofficial beginning to summer and not a day in which the sacrifices of fallen U.S. soldiers are honored to the extent that they should be.
► Debate exists about which town has the longest history of celebrating Memorial Day. A handful of towns claim to be the first celebrants of Memorial Day. That debate figures to continue in perpetuity, but History.com notes that Waterloo, New York, was officially recognized by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson as the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966. Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and Rochester, Wisconsin are some other towns that claim to have celebrated Memorial Day since the mid-1860s.
Memorial Day has a rich history that highlights the importance of honoring the men and women who have given their lives while in service of the United States military.
HOW MEMORIAL DAY AND VETERANS DAY DIFFER FROM EACH OTHER
METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION
Memorial Day and Veterans Day each honor the military, though the two holidays are not the same.
Memorial Day, which is celebrated annually on the last Monday in May, honors the brave men and women who lost their lives while serving in the American military. Many communities host memorial ceremonies honoring their fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, ensuring such soldiers’ bravery and sacrifices are never forgotten. While many people now view Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer, the weekend should not be celebrated without also pausing to reflect on and recognize the military personnel who lost their lives in defense of freedom and the American way of life.
Veterans Day is celebrated annually on Nov. 11 and recognizes all men and women who have served in the military. Veterans Day coincides with Remembrance Day, which is celebrated by the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of 53 member states with connections to the British Empire. Though Veterans Day and Remembrance Day are each celebrated on Nov. 11, the latter recognizes armed forces members who died in the line of duty, making it more similar to Memorial Day than Veterans Day.
It’s not uncommon for people to recognize fallen soldiers on Veterans Day, but many use the holiday to express their appreciation to existing veterans.
FOR ROLE IN CONCENTRATION CAMP LIBERATIONBY GIUSEPPE RICAPITO
The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif. (TNS)
MARIN, Calif. — A 97-year-old World War II veteran and a longtime resident of Marin is being saluted for his role in the liberation of the Dachau and Allach concentration camps.
Dan Dougherty was interviewed by a historian on April 30 about his role in the liberation and viewed schematics of the sites during a trip to Germany on April 30. A guest of honor at a ceremony in 2020, Dougherty provided only a digital accounting of his experiences due to the pandemic.
“I saw exactly where our company entered and where we split up,” said the Marin resident of nearly 40 years, who took the trip with his wife, Norma, and seven family members.
Dougherty insists on precision when sharing his eyewitness account of the liberation of Dachau.
During his brief stay at the camps — over just two days — Dougherty saw boxcars filled with corpses, victims of the brutal genocide by the Nazi. His recollections, as detailed and exact as they are,
are rich with the frailties and humanity of the American soldiers who confronted the atrocities.
“Nobody had anything of profound significance to say,” Dougherty said. “But we knew we had a mind-boggling experience and we all talked until about midnight.”
Set up in 1933, Dachau was the first of the Nazi concentration camps, established outside the village of Dachau, near Munich. The fall of camps came just weeks before the official declaration of Victory in Europe Day — known as V-E Day — on May 8, 1945. More than 40,000 people died.
“The family is so proud of his service, all that he contributed, all that he saw and his participation in the liberation of the camp, equally his desire to want to tell exactly what happened,” his son, Phil Dougherty of Novato, said of his father, now a resident of Fairfield.
“He’s strategic in his research to find out exactly where things happened and where he was when it happened,” he said. “It’s remarkable.”
Dougherty grew up in Austin, Minnesota, and joined the Army just after
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finishing high school in 1943. He was a member of C Company, 157th Infantry Regiment of the 7th Army during the liberation of Dachau.
Dougherty recalled vicious fighting at the Siegfried Line, a massive fortification line along the German border. He was wounded and out of combat for a few weeks and participated in the capture of Nuremberg.
After his company crossed the Danube River, officers shared that they had “special orders” to investigate a concentration camp called Dachau.
The camp was located in an abandoned munitions factory near the northeastern part of the town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich in southern Germany, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“We didn’t know what a concentration camp was at that time,” said Dougherty, then a staff sergeant.
On the march to the camp, Dougherty encountered boxcars
crammed with human corpses, victims of the genocide at the nearby camp. There were about 2,300 bodies, Dougherty said, between 39 boxcars.
His company arrived just after Company “I” which was later documented for extra-judicial reprisal killings of Nazi guards due to the carnage found at the camp.
Dougherty said he was assigned to search for guards, but found none. He said he saw civilian reporters and a hospital for the SS, or Schutzstaffel.
That night, he slept in a single-family home with his platoon. He planned to find the crematorium and prison compound the next day, but they were reassigned before dawn the next morning to resume the attack on Munich.
Outside of the city, Dougherty and Army soldiers liberated the Allach-Karlsfeld concentration camp. They gave their rations to prisoners, he said. They found no guards.
He and his troops were told to commandeer lodging in Munich that night.
Dougherty took possession of a shotgun owned by an elderly German resident there and sent it back to the United States. It stood in his closet, unused, until
the 1990s. He was visited by the current resident of that home, now a professor at the University of Munich — and returned it to him.
Wolf-Armin von Reitzenstein, who was the 5-year-old grandson of the German residents during the American occupation, had Dougherty over for dinner in the very same home during Dougherty’s visit.
“I remember the outside of the house very, very well,” Dougherty said.
Following the fall of Europe and the dropping of the atomic
bomb at Hiroshima, Dougherty and many of his compatriots returned home.
Dougherty said he reflected on the history and impact of the war during the ceremony.
“There isn’t anything to see today besides a plaque on a nondescript building at Allach,” Dougherty said. “I learned a lot about what we had come upon that day.”
Sean Stephens, the county’s veterans service officer, said there are about 10,000 veterans countywide, and 1,136 are from World War II.
“I haven’t heard of any other World War II veterans in Marin that were a part of the liberation of Dachau,” Stephens said. “But what is most amazing to me is that most of the World War II veterans didn’t tell many people about what they’ve seen or what they did. They saw it as bragging. But they saved the planet. They saved our country.”
Glenn Ross, president of the Marin County United Veterans Council, said he attended the memorial service of a Petaluma veteran who was part of a liberation of Dachau when the man passed in 2017.
“We were looking for the better good of a country at that time,” Ross said. “It’s what made me want to serve my country.”
Both Stephens and Ross emphasized the significance of recognizing veterans in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day, the federal holiday that honors U.S. military personnel who died while serving in the armed forces.
“No matter when you served or where you served in the military, I am proud that you served,” Stephens said.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Inspired by the sacrifices of others, a Rochester group serves the community with honorary exhibitsBY REBECCA MITCHELL Post Bulletin
ROCHESTER — There’s a history that easily spills out of Richard Krom: the development of the Veterans and Emergency Services exhibit.
But it’s for the remembrance, honor and thanks for those who serve and have served in the military and as police officers, firefighters, deputies and emergency medical technicians.
While visiting the exhibit during an open house on Thursday, April 20, 2023, Carson Warner worked the room with his smile and a thank you for all the heroes. Together with his family, including Darlene Aske and Allyson Gizzi, Warner made a list of people to thank, including Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson and veterans.
“There’s lots of people to thank, that’s why we came,” Aske said.
The exhibit, tucked into 625 square feet on the first floor of the Hilton Hotel in downtown Rochester, is a “postage stamp” of the people’s stories the board hopes to share one day in a larger museum, Krom said. He serves as the president of the museum’s board of directors, where he volunteers alongside leaders who are dedicated to the museum’s mission of honor and education. The exhibit opened in October 2020, though a formal ribbon cutting and open house came this year.
“We made it a point that every one of our displays was based on someone here from the community, who lived in this community and who in some manner was in the military or in emergency services,” Krom said. Richard and his late wife Sharon researched the information and designed the exhibit’s display cases.
The board has worked to share people’s stories for over a decade, which started with the work of Tom Hosier. The displays include the Rochester Police Department, the Rochester Fire Department, emergency medical services, the “warrior from the sky” Fred Hargesheimer and Staff Sergeant Reckless who served during the Korean War. A slideshow on the Korean War also runs
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To Those Who Have Served, We Thank You
MEMORIAL DAY PROGRAMS SET FOR THE AREA ON MONDAY
WEST CENTRAL TRIBUNE
WILLMAR — Willmar veterans will once again raise the Flags of Honor for Memorial Day on the east side of Willmar Lake.
Veterans from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVets and others every year place flags on the graves of every veteran in the area.
On Memorial Day, the veterans will visit each cemetery where they will read the roll call, fire a rifle salute and play “Taps.”
Regional communities will mark the day with programs, flag-raisings, parades and more. For more information, visit wctrib.com.
flags from a cargo container bin as veterans and volunteers work together to place 100 American flags out for display at the Flags of Honor Memorial in Willmar on Friday, May 27, 2022.
a halyard after raising an American flag at the Flags of Honor Memorial on Friday, May 27, 2022, in preparation for Memorial Day on Monday.
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in the middle of the display cases — when the technology cooperates.
“It’s nice to be able to go and read those stories,” said Eldon Anderson of the Korean War Veterans Club. He served in Korea near the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea after the years of the Korean War. “It’s more than just a museum that shows things, there’s the story that goes along with it, and that to me is part of our … living history.”
In a moment of pause, visitors are invited to sit with the people, their stories and history.
“To educate first and foremost because our young people … they don’t know anything about any of this. They don’t know we ever were in a Korean War, they don’t know even know about World War II. They don’t know anything. We’re not teaching anything of our history,” Krom said. “Above and beyond that, we’re not building an interest in young people that assures us of having the capacity of calling on them when we may need them in the future.”
Dr. Chris Arendt, director of the Eyota Volunteer Ambulance Service, said people can help others in a lot of ways and the way he chooses is to serve an EMT. He’s
worked with the Ambulance Service for 28 years.
“I have that defibrillator,” Arendt said while pointing to a defibrillator in the display case. “Our very first defibrillator for Eyota Ambulance, our very first, was one of these battery boxes. Unbelievable. I had even forgotten about it. How fun is that.”
While learning about Hargesheimer’s pharmaceutical connections, pointing out the big kit for rubber gloves and wondering at the trustworthiness of an old
needle on display, Arendt said the exhibit is “top shelf.”
“People in EMS, especially within the medical side of it, it’s more of a humble thing,” Arendt said. “You’re there to serve, you’re not there to take the limelight. You’re there when people are in their worst. So it’s not a time to joyously jump up and down and parade about it. It’s a moment to take care of their needs.”
The displays will rotate periodically, including a hopeful addition on the
Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office. Torgerson said he is grateful for the exhibit telling an important story and history.
“We want people to be aware of those folks that put their life on the line for not just our country — firemen get killed on the job,” Krom said.
“I hope … (people) realize these were normal people who set aside their normal life to go and do these things and then they still try to have a normal life after they’ve done some of these things. Like police officers when they’re done with duty for the day, they’ve got to come home and be a husband or a father and try to be a normal person after that,” Anderson said.
While Krom sometimes loses track of people’s names that he meets in the hotel lobby, the stories of those who risked their lives continue to live in him. He shares their stories in visits to the exhibit, at veterans meetings and through Civil War presentations. It’s history he doesn’t want forgotten.
“There’s millions of stories out there. Some of them good, some of them bad, some of them are just stupid, but nonetheless they are experiences of people,” Krom said. “(People) perk up their ears quickly when they’re hearing a story about a real person. And it’s one of the ways you can capture their attention, too.”
“We’re losing people who have stories that should be told,” Krom said.