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Bands of Mothers Support Parents of Children in Military

Marian Moran, Blue Star Mothers volunteer, photographed on November 4th on the steps of the Union League of Philadelphia.

Marian Moran, Blue Star Mothers volunteer, on the steps of the Union League of Philadelphia. Notice the Blue Star Mothers flag in the window behind her. — Bill Cramer/Wonderful Machine

A Volunteer Mother: Marian Moran

A retired school nurse, Marian Moran now devotes five hours or so a day as a different type of caregiver. She helps parents of children in the military and their kids. "Both are going through a tremendous level of stress," Moran says.

She channels her efforts through the Philadelphia-area chapter of Blue Star Mothers, which Moran founded in 2003. Her son, Kevin, was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy who flew rescue missions from a ship hospital in the South China Sea. She recruited five other local military mothers who she found were suffering the anguish of having children who had to dodge enemy fire.

Now Kevin is in the Navy Reserves and the chapter has more than 150 members. He can be called for duty at any time, but even if he remains stateside, Moran, 61, has no intentions of leaving the group.

"The hardest part of being a military mother is trying to understand how isolated you feel," she says. "But when you find others in the same situation — especially in an area such as Philadelphia, not known for having a lot of people in the military — it's huge."

Much of Moran's work brings to mind volunteer work for schools and churches. She persuades local businesses, universities and churches to donate space for get-togethers. She arranges luncheons and educational seminars.

When together, the members swap useful information, such as which online companies offer low-cost shipping to overseas bases. They also relay requests for items that soldiers need — air mattresses and bed padding; granola bars, tuna fish packets and other ready-to-eat food; dental supplies; socks and foot powder; fluorescent-colored Silly String sprayed to detect IED trip wires; and, recently, snake-bite kits. Beyond that, "Our kids write, I need this or that, but there are other guys over here with no one back home, and they need stuff, too," Moran says. "Then I go knocking on doors and calling local businesses until I get them. I've become a great beggar."

The current campaign is for scarves. "It can get to 20-below in Afghanistan, so we're busy knitting as many as we can," Moran says. And they must be 100-percent wool because if enemy fire hits someone wearing a synthetic scarf, the material will melt and burn skin.

Moran also takes on the most difficult of responsibilities. She travels through four states, at her own expense, to attend funerals for soldiers killed in action. There, she presents the fallen soldier's parents with a Gold Star, the symbol of having a child killed in action.

One funeral in rural Pennsylvania for a Marine killed in Iraq stands out in Moran's memory. "These were poor, hard people. But this young man was so handsome, had so much promise and his parents had pinned all of their hopes on his future. He literally was the pride of the family — of that town — the one who would do so much better with his life. To see his parents at that funeral was so heart-breaking."

Her most recent funeral wasn't much easier: It was for a solider who, tormented by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after returning home, committed suicide.

So Moran can still look forward to meeting with her band of mothers during "a happy time where we can just support and learn from each other."

"I'm so appreciative to these mothers," she says. "In order to raise a child willing to put his life on the line, you need to instill certain traits — self-sacrifice, respect, work ethic and patriotism. It takes a special kind of mothering to raise a soldier."

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