Gold Star Mother Ann remembers her son Rex Sherman
Monday is Memorial Day, set aside to remember men and women who died while serving in the U.S. armed forces.
Among them is Rex Sherman, a Hampshire High School senior who left school in 1969 to serve in Viet Nam. He displayed such bravery in his final battle that he was posthumously promoted and awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action.
Capon Bridge’s green bridge is dedicated to him.
Like all those who give their lives in military service, Rex was a human being who was so much more than his military record.
In a conversation at the Capon Bridge American Legion back in April, Ann Sherman Wolcott, Rex’s mother, described him as a special son – “so handsome he looked like Paul Newman,” with curly blond hair and sparkling blue eyes.
Rex loved music. He sang and taught himself to play the guitar he was given by his mother, and was a big Johnny Cash fan.
He was spending time with his father in Romney when his father, who was retired from the Army Special Forces, encouraged him to drop out of high school and enter the military.
Ann, who is herself a Navy veteran, was working at the East Coast Headquarters of AAFES, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service that runs the PX on military bases, and was living in Washington, D.C., with her three other children.
By the time she found out about Rex’s enlistment, all she could do was trust her strong-willed son knew what was best.
Rex trained to become an Airborne Army Ranger like his father, and volunteered to go to Viet Nam.
He shipped out on July 4, 1969, with the 183rd Airborne Brigade.
“Every July 4, I relive this whole story,” Ann said.
Four months later, on Nov. 19, 1969, Rex was killed – shot four times in the back in an ambush. Ann was at work when an Army major with a cross on his collar came to notify her.
She had Rex buried at Arlington National Cemetery, making all the arrangements herself.
She had to pay the Social Security Administration $26 for burial expenses because Rex had been too young to contribute to Social Security.
In 1973, Ann joined Gold Star Mothers, the national association for mothers who have lost sons or daughters serving in the military. A coworker who had lost her son in Viet Nam was a member and encouraged her to join.
Founded in 1928, Gold Star Mothers is named for the gold stars on service flags families began hanging in their windows in World War I, with blue stars for the living and gold stars for those who died in military service. Gold star banners have the same meaning today.
Rather than sit and grieve, she said, the Gold Star Mothers try to do something for the veterans who returned, helping with claims and disability benefits.
When she hears veterans talking about contacting families of comrades who died in Viet Nam, she urges them to do so. Families want to know their loved ones are not forgotten.
Ann continued her career with AAFES, spending 12 years stationed in Hawaii and working at bases all over the Pacific.
She also continued to be active in Gold Star Mothers, serving as their National President in 2003 and 2004. While president she was invited by Dan Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Wall, to visit Viet Nam.
Ann visits Capon Bridge from time to time, making trips to decorate the bridge on patriotic holidays. She looks forward to seeing the signs honoring her son put up again when work on the bridge is completed, and is grateful to Dave Nichols for having spearheaded the movement to have Rex memorialized.
She cannot see a man about Rex’s age without wondering what Rex would be like today. There are so many experiences he never got to have.
“Rex will never get any older,” Ann said. “He will always be 18.”
In her words
"My son Rex Sherman was born on April 8, 1951, the week of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous retirement speech, which included these words: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Eighteen years later, Rex died as a young soldier in the Republic of Vietnam on Nov. 19, 1969, while serving as an assistant team leader with the 75th Ranger Regiment (Airborne, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol).
"Rex was a happy, healthy boy who had blonde curly hair and sparkling blue eyes. He was a good kid who loved to play soldier and build forts. When he reached school age, he recruited his little brother, who was 2 1/2 years younger, to be his “point man.” His job was to warn Rex when Mom was coming so they could stop jumping on the bunk beds—which were draped in blankets and sheets and had become “The Fort.”
"Rex was always a leader who was loved and respected by his peers and especially by his little brother, Dana. They were inseparable.
"On New Years Eve 1962, Rex and Dana were sledding in a park in Pennsylvania. Dana was involved in an accident that pinned his leg between the runners of the sled and a tree. He was seriously injured. Rex instructed a friend to get a blanket and call an ambulance. Then he called me at work to tell me what happened. When I arrived, Rex had taken care of everything. He was not even 11 years old.
"Rex always wanted a car. In 1967, he bought the shell of an old Chevy with no engine for $100, which he had saved from a part-time job. He was 16 and had the dream of putting a hot engine in that car someday. He even bought a new racing steering wheel for it, made out of stainless steel and wood. He would go out and sit in that old car after school and sometimes at night with his transistor radio—just sit in the car and dream about the day he would get it running. He enlisted in the Army at age 17 and never owned a real vehicle or had a driver’s license.
"Rex loved music, played guitar and sang. He was in a small band and sang in the school choir.
"We were an Army family. His father, Sgt. Lawrence R. Sherman, had a career that took us many places. Rex started his schooling with kindergarten in Germany, then first grade in Alexandria, Virginia. He went to school in Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Rex was an average student who opted to serve the country he loved rather than continue his education.
"Rex was the ideal son, brother and friend. He was loyal, generous and very patriotic. He had impeccable manners and was very handsome. The girls loved him because of those special traits.
Rex is missed by family and friends every day."
Excerpts from "An Ideal Son," written by Ann Sherman Wolcott and published on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website. Rex Marcel Sherman is honored Panel 16W, Row 96 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He can be visited at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 36-1313.
‘An honor no one wants’
The American Gold Star Mothers association was founded almost 95 years ago in Washington, D.C. and is, at its core, a nonprofit organization of U.S. moms who lost children in military service.
Any woman who’s an American citizen and who has lost a son or daughter in active service is eligible to join – regardless of the place or time of service, or whether the circumstances of death involved hostile conflict or not, including mothers of those missing in action.
The group gets its name from a decision made by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918: instead of wearing conventional mourning for relatives who have died in the service, American women should wear a black band on their left arm with a gold star for every member of the family who gave their life for their country.
Families of servicemen hung banners called “service flags” in the windows of their homes, and while living servicemen were honored with blue stars, gold stars represented those who were lost.
Then, it only really applied to mothers who lost children in World War I. Now, it applies to all wars and combat since.
Nationwide, the group currently has 933 members.
Annually, the last Sunday in September is observed as Gold Star Mother’s Day.
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