The newest chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers installed their first officers during a chartering ceremony Dec. 14 at Fort Leavenworth's Main Post Chapel.

The Northeast Kansas chapter of the Gold Star Mothers installed six officers and recognized five members during the ceremony. The American Gold Star Mothers is an organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in service of the country.

Kansas Gold Star Mothers Department President Betty Pulliam spoke about the beginnings of the group. The organization was founded shortly after World War I. Pulliam said it was during World War I that families began hanging blue stars in their windows for each family member in military service. Gold stars then began to replace the blue stars to designate a family member lost in the war, she said.

"And believe me when I tell you the five hardest words you will ever hear are 'I regret to inform you,'" Pulliam said.

Pulliam said she became a member of the Wichita Chapter of the Gold Star Mother's in 1971 after her son was killed on Mothers Day, May 14, 1967, in Vietnam.

"American Gold Star Mothers throughout the United States give many hours of volunteer work and personal service," Pulliam said.

During the ceremony Chapter President Diana Pitts recognized Curtis Williams and Sean Rasare, National Cemetery caretakers.

"They cry when our children are laid to rest, they listen to our hurt ... and they have comforting hugs if needed," Pitts said. "They understand the grave decorations are a reflection of our children's lives - so when items from burritos to blue dragon tears to bottles of Jagermeister are left on the graves, they understand."

Pitts also recognized and presented a coin to Chaplain (Maj.) Pete Martinez. Pitts said Martinez has become like family to a few of the Gold Star Mothers.

"He has been there for notification of our son's deaths ... he has supported us through all of our pain," Pitts said.

Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth Commander Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said the Gold Star Mothers comforted one another when others would avoid them, not knowing what to say.

"To the ladies here in front, your dedication to the unfinished work of your sons is unrivaled," Caldwell said. "You honor your loved ones daily by your work as an American Gold Star Mother, and we are truly humbled by that kind of devotion."

Caldwell said service members choose to serve because they love what they do, but families don't get a choice.

"Families are there because they love us," Caldwell said.

Caldwell said the mothers all wear white symbolic of their unity, a statement of peace, sacrifice and goodness. They all proudly display their gold star pins, he said.

"It is a badge of honor," Caldwell said. "But I also know it is a honor that each woman wish they did not have to have."

Pitts presented Caldwell with a Gold Star Mothers coin.

"General Caldwell has set the standard high in this community as far as bringing gold star families together," Pitts said.

Pitts lost her son, Cpl. David Unger, in 2006 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Baghdad, Iraq. She said after his death she became very involved with veterans and military events in the community and that led her to finding out about forming a local chapter.

"I kept hearing 'the nearest chapter is Wichita, the nearest chapter is Springfield Mo.,'" Pitts said.

Some of the volunteer work the chapter has done or will do in the future includes: attending funerals, volunteering at the Veterans Affairs Eastern Kansas Health Care System Hospital and in the hospital gift shop, walking in parades, helping with the casualty notification process and survivor outreach meetings.

"Basically any- and everything that there could be to do with veterans or military, we are doing, and it is growing everyday," Pitts said. "The most important thing is being there for the other families."

North East Kansas Gold Star Mothers Chapter:

- President - Diana Pitts, mother of Cpl. David Unger who died in 2006.

- Chaplain - Virginia Harris, mother of Sgt. Timothy Harris who died in 1986.

- Recording Secretary - Shirley Hemenway, mother of Petty Officer 1st Class Ronald Hemenway who died in 2001.

- Sergeant at Arms - Cindy Butler, mother of Sgt. Jacob Butler who died in 2004.

- Historian - Deb Drexler, mother of Pfc. Jeremy Drexler who died in 2004.

- Corresponding Secretary - Charolette Myers-Dick, mother of Spc. Edward Myers who died in 2005.

- Member - Deann Farnan, mother of Pfc. Colby Farnan who died in 2005.

- Member - Rhonda Bradbury, mother of Pfc. Brian Bradbury who died in 2006.

- Member - Deb Austin, mother of Pfc. Shane Austin who died in 2006.

- Member - Deb Shanahan, mother of Spc. Matthew Murchison who died in 2007.

- Member - Pam Mulvihill, mother of Spc. William Mulvihill who died in 2008.