Gold Star mothers honored with a taste of Catalina hospitality

Gold Star mothers enjoy parasailing in the waters of Catalina Island. Courtesy photo

Twelve Gold Star mothers visited Avalon for a bit of pre-Memorial Day fellowship, food and fun at a weekend retreat organized by Laura Herzog, founder and executive director of Honoring Our Fallen, a local organization dedicated to helping military families cope with the loss of their loved ones.

The retreat was “better than any therapy session I’ve ever had,” Herzog said, recounting a comment made to her by one of the mothers. “To laugh with them and share with them is therapy for all of us,” said Herzog.

Herzog said mothers came in from as far away as Wisconsin and as local as Los Alamitos. Didi MacPherson, whose son Thomas was killed in Afghanistan October 12, 2012, was among the mothers attending the retreat, she said. “These mothers find hope and strength in unity,” she said.

Only mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of the United States Armed Forces are bestowed with the honor of becoming a Gold Star mother.

Several local businesses, including Catalina Island Company, Bluewater Avalon, Steve’s Steakhouse and Catalina Island Vacation Rentals, rolled out the red carpet for the Gold Star group, donating lodging, meals, services and activities in appreciation of the extraordinary sacrifices these women and their loved ones have made. “I couldn’t do it without sponsors like the Island Company,” said Herzog. “I’m forever grateful.”

During the 3-day retreat, the group enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in two Descanso Beach Club cabanas. They also received some welcome pampering at Island Spa Catalina. In between they stepped out for some over-the-top adventure on the Zip Line Eco Tour.

It was the second Gold Star mother’s retreat sponsored by the Catalina Island Company, which has been working with Herzog and her organization since 2012 on the annual Gold Star widows retreat in September.

“We’re always happy to support Laura and her organization’s work on behalf of our military families,” said Randall Herrel, president and CEO of Catalina Island Company. “It’s an honor for us to be able to bring a little joy to their lives.”

A former Public Affairs Officer with the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, Herzog accompanied Casualty Assistance Officers in 2009 on her first of many next-of-kin notification visits. Watching that mother come to grips with the news of her son’s death left an indelible mark on Herzog’s heart. Soon after she founded Honoring Our Fallen and began organizing events and retreats to give Gold Star mothers and widows safe places where they can cry, talk, laugh and share their journeys with others who understand what they’re going through.

During dinner at Avalon Grille, Herzog watched with joy as those Gold Star mothers began to bond with one another, exchanging phone numbers and email addresses. “I saw them smiling and I saw them laughing,” said Herzog, her voice cracking with emotion. And for Herzog, that signaled “mission accomplished.”