NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A Virginia Beach Gold Star mother is remembering her son on the 18th anniversary of his death.
Cherone Gunn was 22 years old when he died while serving onboard the USS Cole.
Gunn joined the Navy in January of 2000 and deployed later that summer.
His mother, Mona Gunn, told 10 On Your Side she spoke with him a few days before the terrorist attacks.
“Normally Sunday, we’re in church. I said this Sunday, I’ll miss church today and 11 o’clock, the phone rang and it was Cherone,” she said.
On October 12, the day of the attack, Gunn was working as a principal at Fair Lawn Elementary School.
She said she had a private line at her office where her family could reach her.
The phone rang and it was her sister asking what ship Cherone was on and that it was on the news.
After seeing the attack’s aftermath on TV, she made her way with her other son to the base to get answers.
“I prayed and prayed and hoped and prayed he wasn’t one of the ones, but when I got up and they saw my name tag, they said come with me. Deep in my heart, somehow a mom’s instinct or whatever, I was thinking he was one of those four. He was one of the four,” she said.
16 others also died and more than 30 wounded in the suicide bombing that Al-Qaeda took responsibility for.
But those numbers don’t include the hidden wounds left behind in the victims’ families.
“Every anniversary, every birthday, you know your child is gone. You’re not supposed to bury your children. Your children are supposed to outlive us. It’s a burden you carry. You find a new normal,” she said.
And Gunn did, through the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.
One morning in 2004, she opened the newspaper and saw an article about the convention they were having in downtown Norfolk.
Gunn attended and became a member.
She said it’s helped her heal from the tragedy.
“We bond together. We share our stories. We listen to others’ stories. We serve other veterans,” Gunn said.
She said that service, whether through volunteering at the veterans affairs hospitals or traveling the country to support veteran events, is in honor of their children’s sacrifices
Gunn helped bring a chapter to Hampton Roads and is now the first national vice president.
Next year, she’ll step up and become the first African American woman as a national president in the organization’s history.
They were founded in 1928 by World War II Gold Star mothers.
Gunn said under her tenure, she’s hoping to bring in more members.
“There are almost 7,000 service members, in all the services, that were killed since 9/11 and to have just a thousand members, we can do more outreach and encourage more members to join,” she said.
Gunn said it provides healing and many mothers are at different parts of their journey. But she also wants to include Vietnam veterans families, who have grieved for decades, and hopes to give them a proper thank you for their service.
“Very few moms are still around. They are in their 80s, 90s, and some of them have not been invited to join this organization,” she said.
It’s a passion and a purpose born out of a tragedy but Gunn can’t change what happened in the past.
She can however work to make the future brighter for other Gold Star mothers.
“It’s an organization we never, none of us, ever wanted to be a part but it’s an opportunity to come and sit with other moms. We want to let moms know they’re not alone. They’re definitely not alone. As a mom that’s had to bury a child in uniform, there are other moms out there that can be there to support you,” she said.
Gunn will be sworn in as national president next June. The following year, the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. Convention will be held in Virginia Beach.