Kathryn Cross truly lives a life of devotion to our country, and its women and men who served it. She was born on an Air Force base, and has a rich family history of military service, including her dad who served during the Korean War as a flight instructor. She encouraged her firstborn to join the Navy as an aspiring SEAL, and he once proudly told his mother, “I am a lifer Ma, I love what I do!”
“I hoped he would follow his dreams,” she tells Veterans Advantage about Tyler’s desire to serve, in an exclusive interview. “He wanted so much to be like his father, who was a heavily decorated Green Beret during the Vietnam War.”
And then she lost Tyler, who was killed in 2002 while on night patrol along the Grindavik Highway near Keflavik, Iceland.
Nineteen years later, Kathryn still reluctantly recalls the events after Tyler’s death. “I was and am changed forever.” She visited his grave daily for the first two years, and also marked fond memories with him near what is now called Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. Tyler used to play near the former World Trade Center as he and Kathryn waited for Kathryn’s father, an international businessman, to visit them after his lunch meetings.
Tyler was curious, kind, outgoing, loved animals and was a star football player in high school. “He loved being a big brother, he was a fabulous artist and loved doing school projects with me,” Kathryn said.
Kathryn has two other children, younger than Tyler. Jason, who is now a network engineer for Hartford Hospital Group, and Emily, who is a model and aspiring actress.
“Our favorite days were ‘snow days’ when we would sleep in late, drink hot chocolate and watch the snow come down together with a great movie on TV by the fire. It was so much fun.”
As painful as Tyler’s passing was, it did, however, set in motion a new calling for Kathryn. She is now one of the most recognizable faces behind American Gold Star Mothers, the iconic service organization which first began in 1928 under Grace Darling Seibold, the mother of a deceased WWI serviceman. According to the American Gold Star Mothers website, Seibold “organized a group consisting solely of these special mothers, with the purpose of not only comforting each other, but giving loving care to hospitalized veterans confined in government hospitals far from home.”
It has continued to open registration to surviving mothers of those lost while serving and is now home for many post-9/11 era mothers such as Kathryn.
“We are from all walks of life, and all mourn so differently. Many of us strive to serve our communities, and many more simply need to know that they are not alone in this journey as Gold Stars,” said Cross.
“As we try to pick up the torches of life our children had to lay down, I believe we tend to put everything ahead of ourselves in hopes that our children will never be forgotten,” she added.
Military service runs deep with Kathryn. In addition to her dad, two of her uncles served during WWII, one in the Pacific, the other lost over Turin, Italy. Their Aunt from Ireland, who raised them, was also a Gold Star Mother. On Kathryn’s mother’s side, two of her grandmother’s cousins were lost during World War II and buried in Flanders Fields.
She also had family members who are Catholic Holocaust survivors. There were other family members, however, who lost their lives hiding their Jewish friends and neighbors during WWII. “I think they were incredibly brave and I am so proud of them,” she added.
Honoring Service through Art
Nowadays, separate from her work with American Gold Star Mothers, Kathryn is also an exceptional artist, creating patriotic greeting cards to generate awareness and support for those who are hospitalized or serving overseas. For over a decade, and still going strong, she travels throughout the year on a “Tribute Journey” visiting veterans and military service members nationwide. She has also continued to create beautiful paintings and illustrations. Art has brought greater meaning and a sense of purpose to her life as a Gold Star Mother.
Kathryn is grateful to many influential people who have helped inspire her on her personal journey as a Gold Star Mother and artist, including Ashley Wagner, Sebastien Reyes and the U-Haul teammembers for sponsorship and support of “Tribute Journey,” Veterans Advantage Co-Founders Scott and Lin Higgins, and Veterans Advantage Advisory Board member Paul W. Bucha, a Medal of Honor recipient, as well as “so many of my fellow Gold Star Mothers.”
“Once someone said to me ‘inside of every artist is someone screaming ‘Please don’t forget me.’ I believe this is certainly the case for every Gold Star Mother; only we scream inside ‘please do not forget them and all that they have sacrificed for us all.’”