Mary Ellen Callahan of Hanson, whose son Marine Staff Sgt. Bill Callahan of Easton, was killed in Iraq, and Theresa Davis of Holbrook, mother of Army Specialist 4th Class Richard S. Davis Jr. of Quincy, who was killed in Vietnam, will attend a tribute to Gold Star families this week in Washington.
For Mary Ellen Callahan of Hanson, this week’s tribute to Gold Star families in the nation’s capital really is a tribute to her son and all the men and women who gave their lives to serve their country.
Her son, Marine Staff Sgt. Bill Callahan of Easton, was killed on April 27, 2007, while disarming a roadside bomb in Ramadi, Iraq. He was 28.
Callahan — and the Holbrook mother of a soldier who died in Vietnam in 1968 — will be among the Massachusetts representatives joining Gold Star families from across the nation at the event on Friday and Saturday in Washington, D.C.
“They are remembering my son and the sacrifice that he and all of them made for us here at home,” said Callahan. “For them to do something like this for us, I’m very honored.”
Gold Star is the designation given to honor mothers, fathers, spouses and other family members who lost a relative serving in the U.S. armed forces.
The tribute weekend, hosted by Families United, includes a dinner for the families on Friday and a Time of Remembrance ceremony followed by a family picnic on Saturday.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were invited to the dinner, along with former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“It’s pretty exciting for us,” said Callahan, who works at the veterans hospital in Brockton. “This is a special tribute to the families of the fallen. I appreciate it very much.”
The nation’s capital has become a special place for Callahan. Her son is buried in Arlington National Cemetery and through her visits there, she has gotten to know many mothers in the area.
“Going down there has become my second home,” she said. “I’ve got a good network of support down there.”
This year’s ceremony in Washington will pay special tribute to military service members who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Gold Star relatives from other wars may also attend.
One of them is Theresa Davis, 82, of Holbrook. Her son, Army Specialist 4th Class Richard S. Davis Jr., was killed in Vietnam on June 6, 1968, at age 21. A Silver Star was awarded to the Green Beret posthumously. The family lived in Quincy at the time.
Davis was not available for an interview as she had already left for the nation’s capital.
Her daughter, Penny Davis Ericson of Holbrook, said the family has two Gold Star honors: for Sgt. Davis and for her father, Army Master Sgt. Richard S. Davis Sr., who was killed while on military duty at the White Sands missile range in New Mexico in 1959, when Theresa was pregnant with their last child.
Penny Davis Ericson said life wasn’t easy for her mother raising five children alone. Then in 1968 she lost a son — Penny’s brother — in Vietnam.
“We miss Dickie every single day,” Ericson said.
Ericson was 16 when her brother died. For her, the Gold Star signifies “pride and loss.”
A lot has changed, she said, since the 1960s when Vietnam veterans were not honored for their military duty.
“It’s a lot easier now that people actually care,” Ericson said. “There are people who actually stop and say thank you.”
She said that, when her mother first got a Gold Star license plate, a man on a motorcycle pulled up to her and said thank you.
“It made her cry,” Ericson said.
Despite her mother’s advanced years, Ericson said she is still going strong.
After the ceremony in Washington, Theresa Davis will come home, then head later to California to meet with another Gold Star mother, then will be off to Florida to ride with the Rolling Thunder, a national motorcycle club whose motto is “We Will Not Forget.”
Davis is an honorary member of the club, which gave her a white leather vest emblazoned with patches.
“She rides on the back of a motorcycle with Rolling Thunder,” Ericson said.
Ericson said her mother’s philosophy pulled the family through the rough times: “Some people don’t have anyone to lose. You need to be grateful you had them in your life.”