Gold Star Mothers bond over tragedy
September 28, 2010
FORT RILEY, Kan. - When the Soldier came to the door in his dress uniform accompanied by a chaplain, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Karen and her daughter were home and Karen's husband, Bob, was out golfing.
"I heard the knock on the door, and I saw the man in uniform, and I knew what happened. I said, 'Go away, I don't want to hear it,'" Karen said.
She was angry the men wanted her to call her husband during his golf game, but finally conceded and told Bob, "Alex was killed. You need to come home."
"I was crying so hard, I couldn't breathe," she said.
Her son, Sgt. Alexander James Funcheon, who was part of Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry, Fort Carson, Colo., joined the Army when he couldn't get on the right track after high school. In his two and a half years in the Army, he had proven himself a valuable member of the team and quickly worked his way up the ranks.
"We were told he was responsible, and he was good at his job, and it's hard because we never got to see that," Karen Funcheon said about her son, who was killed April 29, 2007, by an Improvised Explosive Device in Baghdad, Iraq. "We had the kid who lost every winter coat I gave him."
The Family was assigned a casualty assistance officer, who came over every day to fill them in on the details for the memorial and funeral.
"People started showing up, and I wanted them to come in and cry with me. The worst thing to do was to ignore me and not want to be talked to, but I wanted people around," she said.
When the Family found out former President George W. Bush was coming to Wichita, Kan., they called their casualty assistance officer and asked if he could set up a meeting.
"He just went above and beyond the call of duty," she said.
Bush met the Family on Air Force One at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita.
"My husband told the President he wanted to make this (the war) all worthwhile," she said.
Karen gave the President a picture of Alex and one of his dog tags and said she wanted him to remember him because so many Soldiers were a number and not a name and a face anymore.
"He was a really great man. On the last day Bush was in office, he had breakfast will all the Gold Star Family members," she said.
"I'm not angry with the Army at all. They grew my son up. I'm angry with Osama Bin Laden," she said.
Karen started a group in her town for all of the friends and Family of fallen Soldiers. The group meets every month.
"The group is for anyone who loved that Soldier and needs to talk. We sit down and have lunch and talk about the Army," she said.
The Army offers a program called Survivor Outreach Services for Family members of fallen Soldiers.
Christina Gary, SOS Coordinator at Fort Riley, said SOS was established in 2008 by the Secretary of the Army to keep Families connected to the military and give them the support they need.
The program coordinates a Ceremony of Remembrance for the children of fallen Soldiers each Sept. 11 and hosts tragedy assistance for survivors.
Gary said the program also helps connect children with other children who have lost a Family member.
"Many children go to school with other children, who have both parents with them, and this program connects them with other children who are in similar situations," she said.
The Fort Riley SOS covers Kansas and Nebraska and brings resources to any Family in need.
"We will help them with legal or financial questions. We get them linked up with the appropriate resources to get the problem solved. It also gives them a chance to talk and share their stories and how they are beginning the healing process," Gary said.
SOS works with non-governmental organizations like the American Gold Star Mothers and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors by providing continued support and hosting events including the TAPS Good Greif Camps and Adult Survivor seminars.
SOS also conducts educational forums to educate Gold Star Families on benefits, assisting with legal concerns and financial planning.
If a Family visits Fort Riley, SOS tries to pair them up with a Soldier who is assigned to the same unit their Soldier was assigned to, Gary said.
"When you can have a Soldier come and be with a Family and show they still care, that means so much to the Family," she said.
SOS is currently educating spouses, units and Family Readiness Support Assistants to make them aware of the Families and the support they still expect from the Army.
"They still want that attachment and feeling that they are part of the Army," she said.
Karen said she's happy the Army has SOS in place for Family members.
"It's very beneficial. What they are doing, trying to get all the Families together, is great," she said.
While the pain never goes away, Karen said, she, her husband and their daughter are learning to honor their son's memory.
"My husband is going back to college and getting a degree in social work to work with Soldiers who have PTSD," she said.
Debbie Drexler lost her son Pfc. Jeremy L. Drexler on May 2, 2004, to an IED in Baghdad, Iraq.
She honors her son, who was assigned to B Company, 91st Engineer Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, by attending meetings of the Gold Star Mothers of the Northeast Chapter.
"Being in Topeka, we didn't have a chapter of our own, so we started one, and we have fundraisers and meetings," she said.
Drexler passes out business cards with Jeremy's name and picture on them to anyone who will take one.
"Jeremy liked to laugh and make people at ease. He was good hearted and would do whatever he could to help others," she said. "He was responsible for saving a lot of the Soldiers' lives. They said he was officer material."