Jennifer Marino spent 15 years serving her country in the Marine Corps. The avid cyclist met a member of American Gold Star Mothers (AGSM) is an organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of their country.
“She said her biggest fear was that her son's memory would be forgotten. I wondered how many other families have this same concern. At that time, I was looking for a way to connect my cross-country bike ride with a bigger purpose, so I decided to dedicate it to fallen heroes,” said Ms. Marino “But I didn't think that simply saying I was riding in their honor was really going to have an impact, so I reached out to this mother and asked her if she thought Gold Star families would be interested in sharing their stories with me as I crossed the country.”
Ms. Marino was put in contact with the National President of the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. The organization agreed to let her write a letter to their membership, which was sent out via email and published in their hard copy news letter. Ms. Marino included her contact info and encouraged families to email me if they were interested in being part of this project. As a result, she has now mapped out more than 100 families across the country where she will stop on her 77-day, 2,800-mile journey to visit and then blog and post Facebook entries about their stories. She departed Camp Pendleton in California on Aug. 10, and will complete her trip with a visit to the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Oct. 25.
Ms. Marino will visit a family in Athens, Tn., on Tuesday, and complete a rest stop in Chattanooga on Wednesday. She is also meeting with families in Nashville and Knoxville.
“The families seem to be universally grateful that someone who didn't know their loved one still wants to talk to them and hear their stories,” she said. “They appreciate the opportunity to share about the people they lost, because this is how they keep the memory of their loved ones alive. They tell me this project means a lot to them, and they can't believe I'm crossing the country on my bike to honor their loved ones.”
The ride has been both a challenge and a great joy, said Ms. Marino. “Finding enough hours to accomplish everything that goes into a day in the life on this trip can sometimes be difficult,” she said. “I planned and coordinated the entire thing myself, including my visits with families, my riding routes, lodging, and I'm also the one responsible for my bicycle maintenance. My Facebook posts take me about 90 minutes to put together, and I spend several hours with families each day—not to mention riding 50 miles. But I am where I want to be right now and doing what I want to be doing. These families' stories are amazing, and I want more people to know about them.
Donations, which go to both support Ms. Marino’s ride and to the Gold Star families, can be made at www.goldstarride.com. Follow Ms. Marino’s progress and hear the families’ stories on www.facebook.com/goldstarride.
"Gold star mothers" is a term that came into general use with the creation of the service flags used to show that a family had a son in the service (a blue star) or a son that had died in the service (a gold star almost covering the blue star so that a rim of blue still shows). A group of gold star mothers met in 1928 and formed the organization American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. AGSM is a private organization and you must apply for membership if to join. AGSM is a non-profit, 501 C (3), organization and as such cannot engage in political or lobbying activities. The organization takes no position on political issues of the day but does support the military and has many activities that reflect that support. Officials said, "AGSM is not directly connected with any other organizations but we do communicate with similar organizations, which share our purpose."