Starla Owens says talking about her son — his life and death — helps her cope with her grief.
Speaking with other mothers who have lost their son or daughter while in military service is particularly gratifying for Owens, whose son Army Specialist Joseph M. Lancour was killed in Afghanistan nearly five years ago.
"We share a bond, a deep bond. If I feel like crying, I don't have to hide my tears, I can shed them," said Owens of Muskegon.
Owens has found solace in sharing her joys and tears since joining American Gold Star Mothers.
"Joe is gone from this earth, but not gone from my heart. These mothers understand that love is unconditional, here on earth and in death," she said.
American Gold Star Mothers is a national organization that helps mothers find strength in the fellowship of other moms who strive to keep the memory of their loved one alive by working to help veterans, those currently serving in the military, their families and communities.
"I didn't even know I was a Gold Star mother until someone handed me a flag and explained I was part of the group of mothers who had lost their child," she said.
Owens, and all Gold Star mothers, as well as Blue Star mothers who have a son or daughter currently serving in the military, will be celebrated during Thunder at the River. The third annual salute to veterans will be held this weekend by Rolling Thunder Inc., Michigan Chapter #1.
Thunder at the River will be held Saturday and Sunday at the Little River Casino Resort at U.S. 31 and M-22 in Manistee. Events include a display of the Michigan Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Fallen Heroes Memorial three-man living statue, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flyover and classic bike show. Live bands will provide entertainment and food will include American Indian specialties and a pig roast.
A Blessing of the Bikes will be followed by a scenic ride through Manistee County along the Lake Michigan shoreline beginning at noon on Saturday. A donation of $25 per person is recommended.
All funds raised will benefit Michigan Veterans.
Rolling Thunder's national organization was founded in 1987 by two Vietnam veterans to give voice to concerns over soldiers missing in action or held as prisoners of war.
Their first gathering in 1988 welcomed more than 2,500 motorcycles from all over the country to the nation's capital for a rally to demand a full accounting of all POW/MIA's.
Now more than 850,000 participate in the annual Memorial Day Ride for Freedom. The group's mission has expanded to help serve the needs of veterans and their families.
"Gold Star mothers are part of our community. Helping make them known, all plays a part in what we do," said Jerry Langhann, president of the Manistee chapter.
For more information, visit RollingThunderMichigan1.com.