Sons and Daughters In Touch is an all-volunteer, national support organization committed to uniting the Gold Star sons and daughters of American servicemen who were killed, or who remain missing, as a result of the Vietnam War. In addition, our membership includes family members and many military veterans who served with our fathers -- all dedicated to furthering the mission of SDIT.
A Message to the Latest Generation of Gold Star Children
‘Sons and Daughters In Touch’ is proud that the following individuals will attend the Gold Star Families Memorial Day Breakfast at the White House on May 27, 2013.
These Gold Star ‘sons and daughters’ are among the scores of ‘sons and daughters’ who have helped further the mission of ‘Sons and Daughters In Touch’ and cause of America’s Gold Star families.
Mike Burkett is the owner of a food brokerage in Texas. Mike lives in Spring Texas with his wife and seven-year old daughter whom they adopted from Kyrgyzstan in 2012. Mike is the son of SP4 Curtis Earl Burkett (Army) who was killed on February 19, 1971 and is remembered on Panel 5 West, Line 120 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Jeanette Chervony has worked for the Costa Mesa (CA) Police Department for 27 years. Since 2003, she has been a supporter and mentor to young Gold Star children as part of TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) and Snowball Express. Jeanette is the daughter of Sgt. Eddie E. Chervony (Army) who was killed in action on May 5, 1968, and is remembered on the Panel 55 East, Line 6 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Jim Cordero is the principal of a Catholic elementary school in Southern California. He and his wife have two young children. Jim has a particular interest in US government and military history. He produced and hosted the SDIT “Artists Forum” at the 2005 Fathers’ Day Reunion. Jim was born six months after his father – Maj. William E. Cordero (USAF) – was lost while on a June 22, 1965 bombing mission over North Vietnam. He is remembered on Panel 2 East, Line 15 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Melanie Danna is a paralegal from Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She has been a member of SDIT since its formation in 1990, and served several years on the Board of Directors. Melanie’s mother, Joanne Danna, served two terms as National President of the Gold Star Wives of America. She is the daughter of CWO Joseph J. Danna, Jr. (Army) who was killed on December 16, 1970. He is remembered on Panel 6 West, Line 124 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Joe Dunn is a chef and restaurateur from Hyannis, MA and the son of Navy Cmdr. Joseph Dunn whose plane was shot down on February 14, 1968 over the territorial waters of China. Joe’s mother, Maureen Dunn (who passed away on May 10) was a founding member of the National League of POW/MIA Families. Joe has served on the League’s Board of Directors and continues to actively support the fullest possible accounting for America’s POW/MIAs through a host of veterans and military events in Massachusetts. Despite years of effort, a fact-finding trip to China, and evidence suggesting that he survived the crash, Cmdr. Dunn remains unaccounted for. He is remembered on Panel 39 East, Line 31 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Karoni Forrester works in the technology industry and resides with her family in Austin, TX. She is a member of the National League of POW/MIA Families’ Board of Directors and Texas State Coordinator for the organization. Karoni participates in public awareness events across the country (including The Ride Home and Run for the Wall). She regularly meets with government officials responsible for policy and operational oversight for the POW/MIA issue and has traveled to Vietnam to promote an honest accounting for America’s POW/MIAs. She is the daughter of Capt. Ronald W. Forrester (USMC), who is unaccounted for in Vietnam. He is remembered on the Panel 1 West, Line 106 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Dan Jordan is an award-winning high school history teacher from Phoenix, AZ. Dan designs the eUpdates that provide valuable information to SDIT members. Dan and his family reside in Phoenix. Prior to the 2010 Father’s Day reunion, Dan utilized an on-line service to ensure that registration and event information was communicated to all SDIT members. He is the son of 1Lt. Daniel Jordan (Army) who was killed in action on July 10, 1967, and is remembered on Panel 23 East, Line42 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Laurette Rand Kanavos is a legal assistant and lives in Westchester County, NY. During her five-year tenure as an SDIT Board Member, she worked as the Membership Coordinator. She is the daughter of SSGT Michael Rand (Army) who, prior to his deployment to Vietnam, served in the Korean War and was a Military Science teacher and Rifle team instructor at Xavier High School in NYC. He was killed in action on October 27, 1966 and is remembered on Panel 11 East, Line 119 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Patty Crawford Klunder lives with her husband and daughter in Fairfax, VA where she is active with school and community programs. In 1992, Patty was a leader in planning SDIT’s first national Father’s Day reunion at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She is the only child of Lt. John Calvin Crawford (Navy) who was killed on March 10, 1967 and is remembered on the Panel 16 East, Line 51 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Dave Pendergraft is a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and served 12 years on active duty in the USAF. He currently works in a civilian capacity for the Air Force and lives in the Washington, DC area. He is the son of Maj. Ray D. Pendergraft (USMC) who was killed on July 2, 1967 and is remembered on Panel 22 East, Line 112 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Mark Pitts and his family live in the Atlanta area where he is an executive with the Coca-Cola Company. Mark is the son of Capt. Riley L. Pitts (Army), the first African American commissioned officer to receive the Medal of Honor. In 2003, Mark traveled with SDIT to Vietnam to see the location where his father was killed. Captain Pitts was killed on October 31, 1967 and is remembered on the Panel 28 East, Line 105 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Stacy Swenck is a writer and educator from Temecula, CA and is passionate about the mission of Sons and Daughters In Touch. She has studied, and made a comparative analysis of, the writings of Gold Star children from WWII and the Vietnam War. She serves on the SDIT Board of Directors, assisting with editing the SDIT eUpdates. She is the daughter of Maj. Robert B. Swenck (USAF) who was killed on November 25, 1971 and is remembered on Panel 2 West, Line 72 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
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Ten years ago – March 17, 2003 – more than 50 American Gold Star “sons and daughters” who lost their fathers in the Vietnam War stood in the Singapore International Airport, watching on television as President Bush warned Saddam Hussein that failure to leave Bagdad would result in military action against his regime.
Within this Gold Star delegation were the now-grown children of men who served in every branch of the US military: enlisted, draftees and officers. Their fathers served in every era of the war; some were killed early in their tours of duty, others completed months and years of service, and some were still Missing in Action. Four of their fathers were posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The group was returning from an emotionally draining two-week trek across Southeast Asia, to see the places their fathers fought and died nearly four decades earlier. These sons and daughters who had just struggled to confront the war that had taken their fathers and robbed them of childhood innocence would return home to face war again.
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In June 2000, during a Father’s Day ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Sons and Daughters In Touch announced a first-ever historic trek to Vietnam. I was the first time such a large group of Gold Star family members traveled to see, taste and touch the country where 58,282 Americans were lost. Within a month of the announcement, two Veterans organizations – Vietnam Veterans of America and VietNow – pledged their moral and financial support for the historic and emotional journey.
On March 2, 2003, a team of 20 Vietnam combat veterans and nurses braved their own emotions to lead 50 Gold Star sons and daughters from Los Angeles to Vietnam. It was fitting that their pre-trip press conference was held at the Bob Hope Hollywood USO as many of their fathers had enjoyed USO shows hosted by Hope and other Hollywood celebrities. A message of support from the aging Bob and Delores Hope was delivered by their personal representative.
The delegation – with the theme “In Honor, Peace and Understanding” – set out to honor their fathers, achieve a degree of inner peace, and gain a better understanding of what their fathers experienced in Vietnam. Upon touching down in Ho Chi Minh City, they broke into an unrehearsed, celebratory round of applause – a sentiment that in the in the 1960s and 70s would have been unfathomable.
As they acclimated to the culture, the group stayed at Saigon’s famed Rex Hotel and met with representatives of the U.S. Embassy. They made day trips to the floating markets on the Mekong Delta, absorbed tours to historical sites, visited local restaurants and participated in random exchanges with locals.
They then broke into smaller teams for travel to the different corners of Vietnam where their fathers died in hamlets, jungles, rice paddies and atop craggy mountain sides. Months of planning and research enabled them to collect soil, burn incense and lay flowers while standing in the exact spot where their fathers were lost – their personal ground zero.
When they weren’t engulfed in absorbing their own loss, the sons and daughters consoled each other as they had experienced similar losses and faced similar emotions.
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Last month, America marked the 40th anniversary of “Operation Homecoming” – the return of U.S. Prisoners of War from Hanoi and the Department of Defense recently launched an effort to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. A total of 58,282 names are now inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and a new Education Center is underway to tell the stories of each of them.
Vietnam is forever etched into America’s history and psyche.
Tracing a fathers’ footsteps enabled Vietnam to become a destination of remembrance, celebration and understanding rather than the source of enduring nightmares. When the time is right, perhaps this trip can serve as motivation and model for America’s new generation of Gold Star families – that they might trace the final footsteps of their loved ones.
Maybe our visit to Hanoi will be their visit to Baghdad, and our visit to Hue City theirs to Fallujah. Just as we crawled through the Cu Chi Tunnels, maybe they’ll walk the streets of Ramadi. Learning how U.S. Veterans are working with Project RENEW to rid Vietnam of thousands of unexploded ordinances may engender a humanitarian project to rid Iraq of unexploded IEDs.
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Ten years later, debating the reasons for our nation’s invasion in Iraq is as rending as considering rationale for America’s involvement in Vietnam. Yet, discounting military families – especially Gold Star children – is a mistake never to repeat. In our age of instant communication, it’s easy to locate, connect with, and meet the needs of families torn apart by war.
Seventy-plus years after WWII, sixty-plus after Korea, fifty past Vietnam and so many other conflicts, and now ten years after the start of the war in Iraq, Sons and Daughters In Touch continues to champion the needs of Gold Star families from all wars. First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are focusing attention on America’s military and Gold Star Families, too, but there is more to be done.
The “Gold Star” designation is un-chosen and unending. It is a constant reminder of what was lost, and what might have been. Yet it preserves the memories of a fallen father or mother who wore our Nation’s uniform, and adds indelible words to the pages of American history. For Gold Star families, it can be a debilitating anchor or life’s springboard, inspiring them to move beyond the pain. Sons and Daughters in Touch hopes our journey will serve as inspiration to this latest generation of Gold Star Children.
By General George W. Casey, Jr.
The first time I saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it took my breath away as I struggled with the scope of the loss that it represented for our family and for our Country.
My father’s name is on The Wall, on the 126th line of panel 9-W. He was commanding the 1st Cavalry Division when his UH-1 “Huey” helicopter crashed near Bao Loc on a mission to the hospital at Cam Ranh Bay to thank servicemen under his command that were injured during the Division’s successful operations into Cambodia. Continue Reading →
Written by Natalie DiBlasio for USA Today
More than 100 people, including retired general George Casey, the 36th chief of staff of the Army, joined Cruden, 48, of Bayonne, N.J., on Sunday at an annual ceremony to recognize their fallen dads.
“I was 3 when my father died, and my sister was born while my casino online father was in Vietnam, so she never even met him,” Cruden said, holding back tears. “I always hated Father”s Day. Everyone is buying their dads cards and ties. I never could.”
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