For some mothers, the somber meaning behind Memorial Day can be sobering.
The thought of a brave son or daughter serving overseas, in hostile territory, can worry a mother sick, with fear that her child is alone and in harm's way. When those thoughts become overwhelming, help is available from the Columbus chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America.
The Blue Star Mothers group is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical service organization comprising mothers who have or have had children serving in the U.S. military. The organization also promotes public awareness of military support efforts through fundraising and community events.
The more than 50 women in the local group provide support to each other and to active-duty military personnel. Associate members could be fathers, aunts, uncles and other family members.
In the past three years, the Columbus chapter has sent almost 4,000 packages overseas, according to Trina Dunlap, second vice president of the Ohio organization and 2008-10 president of the Columbus chapter. She also co-founded the chapter in 2007.
"There are so many over there that do not have anybody sending them anything from home, and they're over there alone," she said. "Those are the ones we target."
The intent of the packages is to say, "Thank you for what you are doing."
Dunlap said she would send 10 packages to her son, Michael Dunlap, a U.S. Army officer with the C-52 infantry company who was stationed in Iraq for 15 months. He arrived home safely in fall 2010. He would give nine away to soldiers whom he knew hadn't received anything, she said.
The Blue Star Mothers will participate in the Memorial Day parade in Worthington on May 30, holding a Blue Star Mothers banner and pictures of their family members who are in the military.
"It's not just another day or a cookout," Dunlap said of Memorial Day, adding that now that her son has fought overseas, she feels the pain of what the veterans went through in past wars. "It means a lot to us."
The women of the group also support each other, Dunlap said.
"Moms walk in with a tissue and a picture and say, 'My kid just left for basic,' and we tell them it's going to be OK," she said.
Blue Star Mothers post flags in their windows, with one white star representing each solider in their family. Some women of the Columbus chapter have flags with as many as four stars.
As president, Dunlap would present a gold star to a family who has lost a loved one.
"It was a heart-wrenching thing to do," she said.
The overall mission of this group is to be patriotic, educational, social and service-oriented and to maintain true allegiance to the government of the United States, Dunlap said.
Dunlap, a supervisor in American Signature's home-office loss-prevention department, was honored by the company during its annual leadership conference awards dinner in August. Dunlap received the 2010 Jerome Schottenstein Humanitarian Award in recognition of her public-service efforts.
Established in 1997, the Schottenstein award recognizes an American Signature (Value City Furniture's parent company) employee who has demonstrated extraordinary volunteer efforts by giving back to the community. Dunlap is only the fifth recipient of the award. Her son presented it to her as a surprise guest.
The Blue Star Mothers group meets monthly in Worthington; members find a way to educate the public about what really is involved when Americans are fighting overseas.
When asked what the Blue Star Mothers meant to her, Dunlap said she finds it difficult to explain it in words, but offered this: "When you see the flag fly, it's quite different when you have family in the service."