Formed in February 1942, the Blue Star Mothers of America is a service group that provides support for active duty service personnel and assists area veterans groups. The organization is comprised of mothers and step-mothers of active duty military as well as those who have received medical or honorable discharges from the service.
During World War II, members provided assistance wherever needed, working in hospitals and train stations as well as sending care packages to soldiers overseas.
The Danville chapter of the group has been around for nearly eight years, formed by three women sharing a common bond in the awful days after Sept. 11, 2001. Peggy Conklin, Nancy Ecker and Patty Martin, all mothers with sons in the military, turned to one another for support as troops began their deployment into Iraq.
Finding no support group for families of military personnel in Northern California, the trio decided to get one organized. The first meeting of the Blue Star Moms was held in November 2001 at the Veterans Hall in Danville with 30 area residents attending. The group has since grown to more than 100 members and joined with the Blue Star Mothers of America as an official chapter.
Janet Burchard, the current president of the Danville chapter, said she became involved with the Blue Star Moms four years ago.
"My son had just joined the military," she said, "and I needed the support of like-minded women." Her son, Scott Crosley, served a year in Iraq in Bayji and is currently a chaplain in the National Guard.
Both Burchard and Care Package Committee co-chairwoman Nan Fuchs said having that bond with other mothers and getting that empathy and support are what the Blue Star Moms is about.
"It's a unique role, being a mom of a kid in a war. It's unlike anything I can think of," Fuchs said. "Sharing the journey with another woman who's in the same position, on the same unique journey is very supportive."
While both are quick to say that fathers play as great a role in supporting their children, there is a solace in having other women they can turn to who are going through the same experience.
"The women get emotional, and they'll cry. And the other moms don't mind. They're there, they'll just put their arms around each other to get that comfort," Burchard explained.
Supporting each other is only a part of what the group does. They also put forth tremendous effort in showing their support of the troops both here and abroad.
Burchard said the service part of the Blue Star Moms was a natural outgrowth of the group. "It's about wanting to help and support our kids and the other men and women in the military," she said.
Fuchs agreed, adding that with children in the service during a time of war, part of the process of coping with that constant level of concern over their safety is in being able to stay busy.
"When my son joined up, I joined the Blue Star Moms. I heard about it in the newspapers and it gave me a way to help," she stated.
Fuchs' son is an Avionics Specialist in the Air Force, in F-22 fighter craft. Her son is stationed at Almendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, but she said there is always the chance that he could be deployed elsewhere.
One of the largest projects undertaken by the Blue Star Moms is their care package program, in which they send thousands of boxes to military men and women overseas, helping bring a taste of home to the deployed troops.
The group sends out boxes that are 12 inches by 12 inches by 5.5 inches deep. They stuff the boxes with all manner of goodies such as snack foods, crackers, cookies, nuts and jerky.
"They love jerky. It's light, it fits really well in their packs," said Fuchs with a smile. "We like to send the 'add hot waters' like hot chocolate or 'add cold waters' like flavored drinks. Something different that they can enjoy."
To help ease the boredom that comes during wartime occupation they will also include other items. "We send Frisbees, hacky sacks, magazines, paperback books," she said.
Fuchs recalled a load of squirt guns the group sent to soldiers last year. With a laugh, she said that they ended up ambushing their lieutenant.
For soldiers out in the field, soap is a godsend. "They're small things," Burchard said, "like hotel soaps. But if you're outside the wire, it's very different."
The moms send out the care packages in two waves, one just before the holidays. They average around 4,000 per year, a fact which carries a weighty price tag.
"To mail all the packages we do during the course of the year costs tens of thousands of dollars," Fuchs stated.
Burchard said they defray those costs by having donation drives. "We call them drop zones. And people have been so heartwarming and encouraging," she enthused.
Each individual box costs around $12 to ship. Burchard said at the Veterans Hall drop zone a man came up to her and wrote a check for $1,200 to cover shipping out 100 boxes.
"It just shows you that there's respect for the military," said Fuchs. "It takes my breath away every time I see those people out there."
The moms also help veterans having a hard time here on U.S. soil. Every two years, homeless veterans from around Northern California are brought to the Alameda County Fairgrounds for Stand Down. The veterans are given access to health and dental care, plus clothing and toiletries, sleeping bags and other items to help keep them safe.
Fuchs said around 500 veterans attend the bi-annual event. "We do what we can for them," she said. "We get them online with Veterans Affairs, get them medical care."
The group is also on hand if the unthinkable happens and a local serviceman or woman is lost. Burchard explained that the moms work with the Casualty Officer assigned to the case and provide whatever support and assistance they can to the family.
"Sometimes nothing is needed," said Fuchs, "And we care for them as sympathetic community members."
This July 4th weekend, the Blue Star Moms will be marching proudly in the annual Danville Parade, showing their spirit and their support for their sons and daughters in the military.
When Independence Day is past, they'll be right back at it, setting up collections, packing boxes and helping to remind the men and women of the five branches of the U.S. military that they are in the hearts and minds of these Blue Star Moms.