Operation Gold Star

NDQSA began a program called Operation Gold Star in the late 1990’s in response to a chance meeting between veteran Mr. Joseph Belardo and Gold Star Mother Ms. Virginia May during the annual “Delta to DMZ” dance help by VVA Chapter 227 of Arlington Virginia. When asked if there was anything he could do for her, she replied, I would really like to see where my son was killed. She also met and danced with NDQSA founder John Huelsenbeck. The idea was planted and Joe and John then started to determine if and how this could be done. What followed was Operation Gold Star, a program with the express goal being to make it possible for any Gold Star Mother to hold a memorial service as close to the site where their sons were killed in Vietnam or Cambodia. The hope being that this would help bring some closure to their loss and to honor these men and fellow veterans.

History of Gold Star Mothers Pilgrimages

The origin of what would become Gold Star Mother’s Day started with a simple accessory: a black armband with a gilt star.  During World War I, family members would wear these armbands to represent a loved one who had died in the war. The stars would later find their way to being displayed on banners that were hung in windows or front doors. Blue stars symbolized the people who were supposed to be home but were missing from the dinner table. If a family member died during their service, the blue star would be replaced with a gold one. Following the end of World War II, Congress designated the Gold Star Lapel Pin. The pin was modeled after the banners and features a gold star with a purple background surrounded by laurel leaves. 

 LINK      A Brief History of Gold Star Mothers and Family

More than 100,000 Americans died during the World War I. Gold Star mothers created several national organizations for collective mourning and support. These groups lobbied Congress for an official government-funded pilgrimage to visit their loved ones’ graves, which the government authorized on March 2, 1929.  The Gold Star pilgrimages honored these women’s sacrifices and eased their grief. 

LINK     Women and World War I Commemoration


WILL-TV’s Gold Star Mothers: Pilgrimage of Remembrance – This one hour documentary was produced by Illinois Public Media in 2004.  For 6,000 women whose sons or husbands were lost in World War I and buried in foreign graves, a pilgrimage to see their loved one’s final resting place brought a measure of comfort. This documentary examines these government-funded trips during the 1930s, a period when mothers reigned supreme in the eyes of the nation. The one-hour program intertwines the history of the pilgrimages and war with the social history of motherhood.

What makes this a special tribute is they included video of the NDQSA Operation Gold Star Mothers first trip in 2000.  This link takes you to the one minute section at 52:46-53:46 where they talk about NDQSA taking Gold Star Mothers back to Vietnam. 

LINK    https://www.youtube.com/clip/UgkxERxjkTBA0WIrn6-tg55YpZRUUbvZT4KU

World War I was the first time American servicemen were killed in great numbers abroad. In order to save costs, the military encouraged mothers to have their fallen son’s remain in Europe to be buried in military cemeteries. They told the mother’s they would give them a chance to say goodbye. Finally in the 1930’s, the government organized pilgrimages for the mothers of the fallen to visit their son’s grave. For many it was the first time they had left their hometown. For the African-American mother’s it was the first time they experienced a world without color barriers. Produced in 2004 by WILL-TV. To watch the full program in a new tab follow this link. Note: You may need to start the program over.

LINK      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL-ouoyZmnc


NDQSA Sponsored Trips

Through the years NDQSA members, their wives and friends, escorted 23 Gold Star Mothers to Vietnam during five separate trips from 2000 thru 2011.  In the tradition of the federally sponsored trips, NDQSA believed that the Gold Star Mothers should not have to pay for their trip. Members raised money through service projects and fund raisers and sought corporate sponsorship wherever possible. This was to be a “door-to-door” program with all costs covered by Operation Gold Star funds. Although a few of the ladies had passed, NDQSA was able to reassemble nearly a dozen of the mothers to attend the NDQSA 29th Annual Reunion in Boston in 2011. This was also the formal closeout of Operation Gold Star because of the age of the mothers. 


OGS 1: Summer 2000

In the summer of 2000, the first OGS group comprised of: DQS President Ed Allen, founding DQS member John Huelsenback and wife Sally, Khe Sanh vets Bruce Geiger and James Smith, and DQS VP George Nagelschmidt; escorted the first four Gold Star Mothers to Vietnam to walk the very places that their sons had died.

The 2000 OGS trip brought together four great ladies who had shared similar tragic personal losses. Mrs. Mary E. Wheeler from Utica, NY, whose son, Marine PFC Joseph K. Wheeler, was killed on 3March 1968 at Khe Sanh while fighting with 1/9 Marines, 3rd Marine Division; Mrs. Valerie May from Midland, MI, whose son, CPL Rollie M. Northouse, was with the “Black Knights” of C Troop 3/5 Cavalry 9th Infantry Division and died on 30 April 1968 in the Khe Sanh Area; Mrs. Theresa O. Davis of Holbrook, MA, whose son, SP4 Richard S. Davis Jr., was with the Army’s Special Forces in Vietnam. He died in June 1968 near the Cambodian Border outside Moc Hoa and was awarded a Silver Star. Mrs. Irene Tschan of Temple Terrace, FL, whose son Marine PFC Ryland W. Drawdy, served with Company E, 2/4 Marines and died near Chu Lai on August 18, 1965, in Operation Starlight when a mortar round fatally wounded him.  

Theresa O. Davis
Irene Tschan
Valerie May
Mary Wheeler
Tan Son Nhat Airport
Moms in My Tho
French Bunker Top of Hill at Con Thien DMZ
Moms Departing for Hue
Memorial Service Theresa Davis son Moc Hoa
John-Smitty At Camp Carroll
Moc Hoa Memorial Shrine-Mekong Delta BGeiger-MrsDavis
Mrs.Davis on Path to Hill at Con Thien DMZ
Memorial Ceremony Khe Sanh Rock Quarry
Camp Carroll
Dong Ha Mtn from Camp Carroll
Hill 250 from Camp Carroll
Khe Gio Bridge
Only Remains of Dong Ha Combat Base
Razor Back- Rockpile
Con Thien Looking North Across DMZ
Site of Geigers NE Duster Position at Con Thien DMZ
Dong Ha Kids in Backyard with Bruce Geiger
40mm Ammo Can near An Khe
Geiger at Hoi An with more Kids

OGS 2: Fall 2002

Operation Gold Star Mothers Fall 2002

In August 2002, the second OGS group of four courageous women, three in their seventies and one in her eighties, begin a life altering journey to Vietnam to locate the places in Vietnam where their sons had died and to say goodbye to children lost too soon. Mrs. Emogene Cupp, from Alexandria, VA, whose son CPL Robert Cupp was killed on his 21st birthday on 6Jun68 when he stepped on a mine; Mrs. Anne Herd, from Fort Worth, TX, whose son SGT Ronnie Herd, 21 years old was killed by “friendly fire” on 5Aug70; Mrs. Florence Johnson, from Braintree, MA, whose son LCPL Edward “Ted” Johnson was 18 years old when killed by a mortar round on 27Aug67; and Mrs. Georgiana Carter Krell, from Miami, FL, whose son PFC Bruce Carter, 19 years old, was buried on his mother’s birthday after throwing himself on a grenade on 7Aug69 to protect his buddies and received the Medal of Honor.

The trip was again made possible by the NDQSA members who funded and made all the arrangements. DQS members Robert and Susan Lauver, and Gregg Dearborn, along with Mike Sweeney (an MP Sgt.) accompanied the women on the trip.

The Group at Hoi AN
Emogene Cupp
Georgiana Carter Krell
Georgiana Carter Krell
Flo Jo Johnson and Mike Sweeney
The walk to Ron Herds Site
Anna Herd With Flowers
Placing memorial flags for Bruce Carter
The Site for Bruce Carter
Reading the Citation for Bruce Carter by Bob Lauver

OGS 3: Spring 2004

Operation Gold Star Mothers May 2004

In May 2004, the NDQSA sponsored their third OGS trip to Vietnam for six Gold Star Mothers. Escorts for the group’s tour included Ed and Nina Allen, Clyde and Janet Larsen, and Dale Peters. Photo by Clyde Larsen.

Gold Star Mothers participating on the trip included former GSM President Dorothy Oxendine (Farmingdale, NY), Shirley Jones (Whitesboro NY), Pauline Yeakley (South Bend IN), J. Winona “Winnie” Tucker (Jerseyville IL), Bill and Doris Nuhfer (Warren PA) and Barbara Calfee (Miami S FL). 

Their sons were: PFC Willie F Oxendine III, (30May68), Quang Tri Province USMC I-3/26, 3rd Marine Division; PFC Thomas G Jones, (26May67), Quang Tri Province, USMC, I-3/5, 1st Marine Division.; SP4 Robin R Yeakley, (11Jun72),  Thua Thien Province, 1st Cavalry.; PFC Arthur L Tucker, (28Mar68),  Kontum Province,  D-Btry 1/8 Infantry, 4th Infantry Division; SP4 William Daniel Nuhfer, (27Jan69),  Kien Hoa Province,  USA  C-3/47 Infantry, 9th Infantry Division; and PFC  Jack Wayne Calfee , (1Jun68),  Long An Province,  A-Btry 2/14 Infantry, 25th Infantry Division.

OGS 4: Fall 2004

Operation Gold Star Mothers August 2004

In August 2004, the DQSA sponsored their fourth OGS trip to Vietnam for six Gold Star Mothers. Escorts for the group’s 16-day tour included Khe Sanh vets Bruce Geiger (DQS), Jim Smith and his wife Sandy (DQS), Bill Griffith (E-3/26th Marines), and DQS vet Chaplain Sam Hopkins.

During the 16-day trip, remembrance ceremonies were held at the Ben Luc Bridge north of Saigon where Janice Dahlke’s son SGT Randy Mueller (D-Btry 2nd/47th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division was killed on 3 Mar 69; and at Phu My off Rt. 631 in a small village near the former base camp where Carol Tabor’s son SP4 Richard Eugene Tabor (E-Btry 1st/503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne) had been killed on 7 Jan 71. From Hue, we traveled north  then west toward LZ Ripcord; Virginia O’Neal lost her son PFC Samuel Stephen Lance (A-Btry l/506th Infantry, 101st Airborne) killed on 1May70 in the vicinity of Ripcord in the mountains east of the Ashau Valley. At Dong Ha, we held a remembrance ceremony for CN John Phillip Van Dusen, the son of Betty Van Dusen, a USN Seabee  at Camp Barnes killed during a mortar attack on 20 Sep 68. Just outside the location of a former Dong Ha Marine Base defended by 1/9 Marines in mid-1967, we held a remembrance ceremony for LCPL Dale A. Pulliam, the son of Betty Pulliam (C Co., l/9 Marines, 3rd Mar Div) who was killed during a ground attack on 14May67. Finally, along Rt. 9 to a spot between Ca Lu and the Rockpile, which was as close as we could get to LZ Margo, where the son of Anna Roble, LCPL Joseph Edward Roble (E Co., 3rd Bn/26th Marines, USMC) was killed on 16Sep68 during a heavy mortar attack while defending the Command Post and LZ. Ironically, the day before his death, Joseph Roble had saved the life of Bill Griffith, who was severely wounded during an intense firefight with the NVA, and it was the same Bill Griffith of the Operation Gold Star group standing right there beside Anna Roble at a remembrance ceremony in honor of her brave son.

OGS 5: Spring 2011

Operation Gold Star Mothers March 2011

Bob Lauver's journal of this 2011 trip is well written, informative, and goes way beyond providing some extracted storylines for this webpage. It speaks to the essence of Operation Gold Star Mothers and about Vietnam after 40 years. Highly recommend you read it.

Operation Gold Star, Vietnam 2011 by Bob Lauver

We had gathered from across the United States; Gold Star Mothers Dorothy Schafernocker, Texas, Georgia Burkes, Florida, and Frances Turley, Missouri, Escorts Bob and Sue Lauver, Pennsylvania, Luke and Lynette Clark, Louisiana, the Clark’s daughter Rose Arnold, Arkansas, and Jerry Ashley, North Carolina. Sue and I had served as escorts in 2002, for everyone else the adventure was new.

POSTSCRIPT from Bob Lauver’s story.

The trip was very rewarding for all involved. Sue and I look back with the pleasure of meeting great people and becoming a surrogate son and daughter to three more outstanding and wonderful Gold Star Mothers.

Luke Clark made the comment that; “I went on this trip to help three Gold Star Mothers have some closure after these many years. Actually, it was they who helped me”. Dorothy Schafernocker wrote; “Seeing Mike’s actual burial site was a very big step in my healing…Bless you and thank you” . Georgia Burkes wrote; “…a trip I’ll never forget. It meant a lot to me. Seeing & knowing where he was killed put a lot of my fears to rest.”. Frances Turley said; “Just can’t begin to tell you how much the trip meant to me-after all these years.

Memorial For Michael E. Schafernocker

Extract from Bob Lauver’s story of Operation Gold Star 2011 page 7

On 28 April 1969 Aviation Ordanceman Second Class Michael E. Schafernocker, United States Navy “Seawolves” was serving as a door gunner and crew chief on the UH-1B helicopter “The Delta Mauler”. His aircraft had engaged suspected Viet Cong sampans when it was hit by a massive amount of enemy fire. The aircraft was heavily hit and descended rapidly. It struck the ground and immediately burst into flames. Attempts to reach the burned out helicopter were unsuccessful.

Michael Schafernocker’s remains were never completely recovered from Cambodia. We were now standing on the exact spot where this happened in a dry rice paddy near a grove of small trees that was only accessible by dirt roads and cow paths. I gave Dorothy a small American Gold Star Mothers Flag and she placed it in the ground. The other Gold Star Mothers and group members placed American Flags. I hugged Dorothy and told her that this was the exact spot where her son was last on this earth. The group joined hands and sang “God Bless America”. Luke Clark produced a plastic bag and assisted Dorothy in the collection of a small amount of soil from where her son had died. I looked around and found that we were surrounded by local herders and their cattle. The water buffaloes were still and looking in our direction. Candy and tee shirts were given to the children who had gathered. Their appreciation and obvious delight lightened the mood.

Memorial For Francis Edwin “Duke” Cortor, Jr. son of Francis Turley

Extract from Bob Lauver’s story of Operation Gold Star 2011 page 21

We stopped at the base of hill 174 which the Army had dubbed “Rocket Ridge”. We left the bus and I handed out flags. Francis Turley’s son, Sergeant Francis Edwin “Duke” Cortor, Jr., 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 11th Infantry, 5th Infantry Division, was involved in operations against North Vietnamese Forces on 21 October 1969. Elements of his unit had suffered casualties during an enemy mortar attack. Although the injured were not from Sergeant Cortor’s platoon, he voluntarily made repeated efforts to recover the bodies of fallen comrades. He gave up his life attempting to save others. Duke Cortor was awarded the Silver Star, our Nations 3rd highest award for Gallantry in Action.
We gathered in the grass at the base of “Rocket Ridge”. I read the eulogy for Sergeant Cortor. Frances placed the Gold Star Mother’s Flag. Other members of the group and the Gold Star Mothers placed American Flags. I hugged Frances and pointed to the ridge line. I told her that this is where her son heroically died. Luke assisted Frances with the gathering of a sample of soil. The vets stepped back and saluted the honor of a fallen comrade, The Gold Star Mothers hugged and placed their hands over their hearts. They shared the grief that only they know. We left the flags in place to honor our fallen and to let the Vietnamese know that we have not forgotten our dead. We returned to the bus and continued to Cam Lo.


Extract from Bob Lauver’s story of Operation Gold Star 2011 page 29

We continued South on Highway one into Long An Province. We turned off on Highway QL1A (highway 4 at the time of the war) toward the town of Ben Luc. We came to the old bridge over the Song Vam Co Dong River, known as the Ben Luc Bridge. I had limited details about the casualty site for Georgia Burkes’ Son. I had talked to her son’s commanding officer and he did not know the exact site. The unit historian for Corporal Burkes’ unit pinpointed a location that was SW of the bridge. We turned off QL1A on to a dirt road. We traveled for a couple of kilometers and stopped between two dwellings. I held Georgia’s hand as we walked through rice chaff to some dry paddies about a hundred and fifty meters from the bus. We went toward a location where there were a couple of banana trees growing out of the paddy berm and Georgia picked that as the spot for her son’s memorial.
Private First Class David Ronald Burkes, Jr., Company A, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division was involved in a search and destroy mission on 28 June 1968. The goal of his unit was to engage and eliminate Viet Cong forces that were threatening the bridges on Highway 4 at Ben Luc and Tan An. PFC Burkes was Killed In Action by small arms fire 3 km SW of the Ben Luc Bridge. David Ronald Burkes, Jr. was Posthumously promoted to Corporal.
Georgia placed the American Gold Star Mothers Flag in the ground. Others each placed an American Flag. Georgia collected a soil sample. We joined hands and all sang “God Bless America”. I put my arm around Georgia and said “You have now walked in the footsteps of your son”.

OSG: Reunion 2011

Gold Star Mothers at the
NDQSA 2011 Boston Reunion Memorial Ceremony "Old Ironsides" Pier

We had the good fortune to be able to conduct our Memorial Service on the dock which is the berth of the USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides", a symbol of our Nation.

Close Out of Operation Gold Star Mothers

Based on an extract from Bob Lauver’s President’s Message 7 October 2011NDQSA newsletter and other information.

Two years of planning, research, and coordination went into making the final trip of Operation Gold Star a reality. Three Gold Star Mothers, Frances Turley, Dorothy Schafernocker, and Georgia Burkes were escorted to Vietnam to walk the land last trod by their sons.

It is with some sadness that we watch this chapter of the Dusters, Quads, and Searchlights end as we close out our Operation Gold Star Mothers. It is a reminder to us all that time marches on and that while 23 Mothers made the trip, there are many, many more that could have realized the closure that comes with standing on a piece of ground 12,000 miles from home. It is hard to realize that this year marks the 50th year since the beginning of the “Vietnam Era”.

At the 2011 NDQSA reunion in Boston, we had the opportunity to travel the paths of history in Boston and to be able to share those steps with many of our surrogate mothers, the Gold Star Mothers who had made the trips back to Vietnam with us. Their presence added an element of emotion to our event that will remembered by all that attended. 

The Gold Star Mothers Quilt

  • At the banquet we recognized the Gold Star Mothers in attendance and were addressed by the President of the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., Norma Luther.
  • The highlight of Auction Night was a quilt dedicated to the Gold Star Mothers from this year’s trip. The Gold Star Mothers Quilt, which now hangs in the Gold Star Mothers National Headquarters in Washington D.C., brought in almost $5,000.00. (editor’s note: this last Goldstar Quilt was won by Jackie Carver after a rousing bidding competition with Bill Tuttle and presented that night to the National Gold Star Association by Jackie on our behalf.)
  • This photo is of the 2011 NDQSA Quilt hanging in the Gold Star Mothers headquarters in Washington DC with Sue Lauver and GSM President Norma Luther in the foreground (photo:2011).

Recognition by the National Gold Star Mothers Association

In September 2011 Bob Lauver and his wife Sue, along with NDQSA historian Paul Kopsick and his wife Deborah, attended the Gold Star Mothers National Banquet in Washington, D.C. During this program NDQSA was recognized and awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of Operation Gold Star.

NDQSA to the man is proud to have conceived of and administered this great showing of love and respect for these ladies and their sons who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service to our nation. We were honored to receive this service award on behalf of all those that donated to and participated in Operation Gold Star over those many years. It has always been for the men and their families. Brothers then … Brothers forever.