By: Anna Merezhko, March 24, 2017
After her son was killed in Iraq, Ruth Stonesifer became a “Gold Star Mother” and made it her mission in life to help other families that lost their loved ones in the war.
“I was up watching CNN when the little scroll that goes across the TV said: ‘Two rangers killed aboard helicopter crash.’ I thought, ‘Oh, those poor families,’ not knowing that the next day when the man in the green uniform showed up, I was one of those two families.”
Kristofor Stonesifer was killed on Oct. 19, 2001 in a helicopter crash during a rescue mission in Afghanistan. It was just a month after the 9/11 attacks. Stonesifer remembers hearing about 9/11 and thinking that her son would definitely be called to action. She said she naively did not think that he could be killed, but her son was one of the first two soldiers to die in the war on terror.
“Right after 9/11, I asked (Kris) what his views were about the attack on our country, and he replied that a ‘lot of good men were going to die.’ Little did I know how profound that observation was going to be for our family and many others,” said Stonesifer.
“My son gave me a different journey in life. I was hoping for grandchildren but I became a ‘Gold Star Mother.’ I fell into volunteer vortex and started to do things like the newsletter (for Wreaths Across America),” she said.
Gold Star Mothers Inc. was a club founded to support mothers who had lost their sons or daughters at war. Concerning becoming a Gold Star Mother, Stonesifer said, “My eldest son had filled out an application for my gold star pin a month after Kris passed. I had not heard about the club before, so I had to google it. It is a wonderful organization none of us ever wanted to become eligible to join, but we are grateful we have.”
Stonesifer recalls that upon hearing of her son’s death, she believed that if her son was featured on the news or on the cover of magazines, it would help with her grief. She thought that if he was exalted as an American hero and the nation honored him, it would preserve his memory.
However, she realized how wrong she was when her family came to the airport to retrieve her son’s coffin. There was a flag draped over it and Stonesifer recalled that through her tears, she saw a glimpse of the whole airport growing still and standing, some even saluting her son, as military personnel ceremoniously handed her a flag.
“In a way, I was thankful for that ceremony,” Stonesifer said, “because it was the only thing holding me together. I knew I had to get through it. I knew I had to honor my son’s sacrifice and that helped me keep myself from falling apart.”
Stonesifer said that the fact that complete strangers stopped to pay their respects to a fallen soldier meant more to her than any magazine cover ever could.
“That was the real tribute I remember that day- total strangers paying respects to Kristofor,” she said.
Writing for the newsletter is where she started her volunteering when she decided to become the director of publication.
“I believe that Kris would not have wanted me to sit at home the rest of my life lost in grief,” said Stonesifer.
Stonesifer is currently on the board of directors of “Wreaths Across America”, an organization that holds wreath-laying ceremonies in veteran cemeteries in all 50 states. Their goal, according to their website, http://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org, is to spread the message of how important it is to remember fallen heroes, and honor those who have given their life to serve our country and protect our freedom.
“My very first experience was being one of those volunteers who showed up in Arlington about five years ago waiting for a couple of hours to get a wreath and be a part of the whole experience. There was such a quiet, dedicated energy that day of people just waiting to get maybe one or two wreaths to take to a headstone to place and honor the sacrifice and the memory of veterans who were buried at Arlington.
“I watched this mother place a wreath on one of the stones and I remember thinking, ‘Someday, when the letters in his name are all worn off, there still will be someone to come by and pay their respects to my son’s memory.
“This is the impact and reason why I continue to work with ‘Wreaths Across America.’ In order to find oneself, you must lose yourself in helping others.”
Stonesifer was president of “Wreaths Across America” from 2009-2010. As president, Stonesifer consoled many mothers who had lost their sons at war. She said that she would first tell them she was sorry for their loss, and then wait for them to tell their stories.
She explained that Kristofor’s passing changed her world around and she had to learn to live in a “new world, one without Kristofor.”
Before becoming involved with “Wreaths Across America,” she made quilts for wounded soldiers. She organized a group that met once a month. They sewed 20 quilts a month making a total of 500 in the past five years.
Stonesifer explained that the most important thing to know when grieving is that you need to allow yourself time to heal. She also managed to have a bill pass in PA in 2003 that gave “Gold Star” families special license plates if any of their family members were killed in action.
That was not all that Stonesifer had managed to achieve to support to “Gold Star” families. She is responsible for implementing “Hometown Heroes” banners in Harrisburg and then in Bucks County. The banners portrayed local men and women who had lost their lives protecting our country.
After her son’s passing, Stonesifer’s immersion in volunteer work was fueled by her desire that her son’s sacrifice would forever be remembered by her family, other families of fallen soldiers, and Americans nationwide.
She keeps the tradition of hanging wreaths on the gravestones of fallen soldiers very much alive. She, along with “Wreaths Across America” visit different cities along the northeast throughout Dec., to pay tribute to the men and women who had lost their lives serving our country.