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Gold Star Chief on Mission to Help

June 30, 1998|DEBRA CANO

After 26 years in an organization that helps veterans, Bette Freeman has fulfilled a dream: She has become the national president of American Gold Star Mothers.

Freeman, a self-described patriot who flies the American flag daily outside her Anaheim home, recently was sworn in at a ceremony in Boston. The group includes about 2,000 mothers nationwide who lost sons or daughters in wars.

Founded June 4, 1928, the group's namesake came from World War I, when mothers would hang a blue star in their window to show they had a loved one serving in the military. A gold star was substituted for blue to honor those who were killed.

In March 1972, Freeman became a member of a chapter in North Andover, Mass., after her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Gregory C. Davis, was killed during the Vietnam War. Her 22-year-old son was on a mission Dec. 27, 1971, to take Americans out of Pakistan when the helicopter he was in crashed in the Bay of Bengal.

Freeman, asked to join by other mothers who had lost their sons in the war, said she was initially hesitant.

"I didn't want to join a group that was sad," said Freeman, wearing a Gold Star pendant, and earrings and socks adorned with the emblem. "But then I found it wasn't that way."

Freeman said she discovered an organization focused on helping veterans who made it home from wars. Since 1974, Freeman has been a member of the Santa Ana chapter, which includes 58 mothers countywide.

Membership has been declining both locally and nationwide since many members have died and there has been little interest by mothers whose children served in conflicts after Vietnam, Freeman said. But as president, she said she hopes to create more awareness about the group and increase membership.

The Santa Ana chapter has adopted veterans who are hospitalized in Long Beach with spinal cord injuries. During their visits, the mothers bring gifts, cookies and most of all, friendship.

"It's rewarding to be able to help somebody else," Freeman said, adding she and other mothers will visit the veterans July 6 to help celebrate Independence Day.

Freeman already is busy organizing the next national convention in June 1999, in Buena Park, and is planning the annual Gold Star Mothers Day at Arlington National Cemetery. This year, she will place a gold star of yellow carnations at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Her theme for the year: "Freedom and Patriotism."

Being involved in the group has given her solace and a way to show respect for her son and others who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country: "My son would be very proud to know that I was doing this for others in his memory."

Membership information: (714) 761-8569.

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