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Mothers aid military personnel in the names of their fallen sons

On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war, Gold Star moms ignore critics of the conflict and do what they can for service men and women overseas.

March 23, 2013|Steve Lopez
  • Army Spc. Trevor A. Win'E, left, was killed in Iraq in 2004. Army Spc. Justin W. Pollard, right, was killed in Iraq in 2003.
Army Spc. Trevor A. Win'E, left, was killed in Iraq in 2004. Army Spc.… (Mary Lallande / For the Los…)

They didn't know each other before the war. But loss united them, and friendship helps sustain them.

"Every one of us wants our child to be remembered," said Sue Pollard, who, like her friend Debi Win'E, lost a son in Iraq. "Our main thing is to do things now in our children's names, in order for them to still be remembered."

"I don't know if you have children, but imagine one of them gone," Win'E told me. "I don't need it to be front and center, but I remember my kid."

I met the two mothers at Pollard's house in Foothill Ranch, near Irvine, on the 10th anniversary of the start of the war that took their sons. At 6 a.m. on Dec. 31, 2003, a woman in a military uniform knocked on the front door of this very house.

She can't forget the words they said: "On behalf of a grateful nation, we regret to inform you that your son, Army Spc. Justin W. Pollard, was killed on Dec. 30."

Justin was 21.

Four months later, the same messenger knocked on Win'E's door in Orange to inform her that her son, Army Spc. Trevor A. Win'E, was injured on April 30 and died May 1, 2004.

Trevor was 22.

Sue Pollard and Debi Win'E connected through American Gold Star Mothers, a service organization dating back to World War I, when a star in the window of a home signified a war casualty. Pollard and Win'E are officers in the Saddleback Valley Chapter.

Last week, on the anniversary of the war, commentators questioned every aspect of the U.S. involvement in Iraq.

We were misled by President George W. Bush on weapons of mass destruction, we invaded a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of Sept. 11, and we didn't have a plan beyond the invasion.

I've made all those arguments myself from the beginning, but I still worried about the effect such assessments would have on Pollard and Win'E. I wondered what a mom does with the pain as the years wear on, as anniversaries are marked and as their sons' sacrifices are blamed by so many on a "mistake."

Pollard and Win'E said anniversaries and judgments don't alter what they believe. They live in their own reality, cope as best they can and ignore what they must.

"We've met a lot of people who say, 'Oh, I'm sorry for your son's loss, but we should never have been there,' " Win'E said.

You have to brush it off, said Pollard, who told me she and Win'E share a deep religious faith, along with a belief that their sons died in a just war, trying to make the world a better place. They're proud that, when the nation was attacked and others wondered what to do, their sons stepped up.

Gold Star moms don't share the same beliefs, Pollard said, but political and religious differences are beside the point. She knows a Ventura Gold Star mom whom I've written about a few times who honors her son's valor and sacrifice but believes the war was a monumental blunder that needlessly cost 4,500 American service personnel, along with tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, their lives.

"I find nothing wrong with the way she feels," says Pollard, "and a lot of them out there feel the same way."

When Trevor died, said Win'E, she felt like the "pink elephant in the room" around her friends. So she and several buddies went to a mountain retreat to talk it over.

"I literally sat in the middle of the room with my high school friends, and we did the whole scenario.... They asked questions and we laughed and we cried, and some of them disagreed totally with him being there and other moms agreed.... I think if you make yourself open to that, and say, 'This is who I am, and my kid's dead,' you can begin to move on."

Pollard and Win'E said they have strong support from their husbands and families, but they're grateful for each other too.

"We don't have to explain ourselves to each other," Win'E said.

"Sometimes I do have a bad day," Pollard said. "Just sadness."

"You miss your kid," Win'E said.

For all they share, their sons died in dramatically different ways. Win'E's son was killed in an IED explosion while in a convoy. Pollard's son died when his sergeant's gun accidentally discharged.

I asked Pollard if that makes the loss more difficult, and a look of both sadness and forgiveness surfaced in her eyes.

"My heart went out to the soldier who killed my son," said Pollard, who hopes to one day meet him and try to ease whatever pain he may be suffering. "He didn't do it on purpose. It wasn't malicious. He adored my son, and he has to live with that for the rest of his life."

Later this year Pollard and Win'E will assemble the millionth care package they and other moms have sent to service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. They make and send blankets to military hospitals, too, and in summer, they send cooling vests to faraway deserts.

This they do in the names of Army Spcs. Justin W. Pollard and Trevor A. Win'E.

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