A quote by Ernest Hemingway often runs through Gold Star mother Jane Hughes’ mind: “Every man has two deaths: when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name.” The Washington mother is determined to not let that happen to her daughter, 25-year-old Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Danielle Hughes Crone, who died in 2010.
“My goals now are making sure everyone else remembers her,” Hughes said. “I’m not ever going to quit saying her name and talking about her.”
On the other side of the country, fellow Gold Star mother Charlene Cosgrove-Bowie feels the same about her son, Marine Corps Reserve Lt. Cpl. Christopher Cosgrove III. Her only child was a mere 23 when he was killed in Iraq in 2006.
“I had hopes of seeing him get married and was looking forward to being a grandmother,” said Cosgrove-Bowie, a New Jersey resident. “All those dreams were shattered in one split second.”
Despite these losses, both women are determined to carry on their children’s legacies.
Before & after
Gold Star families share the heartbreaking commonality of having lost a military spouse, child, sibling or parent. This group includes those whose military-connected family member died by suicide.
That situation describes Hughes’ daughter, a boom operator and ophthalmic craftsman who transitioned to the Air Force Reserve from active duty in 2008. Danielle flew 130 sorties over eight deployments to the Middle East. When she returned home, Hughes noticed that her child wasn’t fully herself, acting depressed and generally unhappy. Her husband called one late summer day with the news that Danielle had died by suicide.
“It was pretty shocking,” Hughes said. “I never would have expected that from her.”
It took Hughes, a mother of two, around 18 months to come up for air.
When she did, she knew she had to bond with and help other Gold Star families. She first joined Gold Star Mothers of Washington, then co-founded Gold Star Families of Washington. She attended Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors events. She had a banner made featuring Danielle’s name and photo and began walking in parades with it.
“I just sort of moved forward in remembering her,” Hughes said. “Like you have any choice.”
Cosgrove-Bowie, meanwhile, joined Gold Star Mothers of America almost immediately after Christopher’s death when the casualty officer suggested it might help. It was a club she never wanted to be a part of, she said, but she wanted to be kept informed of events where she could honor her son.
“It takes a lot to go on, to live your life without that precious child,” Cosgrove-Bowie said. “It’s kind of like life is over.”
But it wasn’t. Cosgrove-Bowie created, Legacy of a Hero: The L/Cpl Chris Cosgrove III Foundation, Inc. The nonprofit’s mission is to help veterans, military and first responders in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
Additionally, she joined the local Marine Corps League as an associate member, following in Christopher’s footsteps. The league, in turn, started another nonprofit in Christopher’s memory called Marines Care.
“So now we’ve got these two nonprofits that do so much to help others in Chris’ name,” Cosgrove-Bowie said. “I often say to Chris, ‘I am just so proud of you, and I hope you’re proud of what we’re doing to keep your memory alive and continue good work in your name.’”
Hughes and her family planted an oak tree in a nearby veterans’ park. It grew from seeds hailing from Arlington National Cemetery and has a plaque honoring both Danielle and a family friend’s father who is buried at Arlington. It’s where Hughes feels closest to her oldest child.
Cosgrove-Bowie feels that connection every week when she visits her son at the local cemetery.
“I wish that people really thought about the sacrifice that our children have made and the sacrifices that Gold Star moms themselves have made,” she said. “There are those who did what they had a passion to do and didn’t make it home.”