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Interview with Norma Luther, August 2, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Norma Luther, August 2, 2007
August 2, 2007
Norma Luther grew up in West Virginia in a small town, wanted to become a nurse, but father against it. Worked for the telephone company in Washington, D.C., met her first husband there, raised 3 children. Her oldest son, a West Point graduate, lost his life flying which traumatized the family. She and husband divorced. Married again to man with United Nations and lived abroad in Europe and Far East. During this time became interested in woking for benefit of others. This marriage ended amicably, and Norma became involved with Gold Star Mothers of America, helping wives and children as well as parents who lost a son or daughter in the military. This has expanded to starting a group in Wilmington, helping those in need. Through her daughter, an attorney in Wilmington, she was introduced to needs of Salvation Army, and has risen to Senior VP in Womens Auxilliary, and active Board member coordinating with Social Services profiles of needy children to be recipients of the a nnual Angel Tree program organized by Salvation Army. Norma is also involved with the Army's homeless program. She takes no pay and says she will go wherever needed. She feels Wilmington to be a giving city and especially recognises the unpaid hours and talents of those who have retired here and contribute to the needy programs.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Luther, Norma Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Malpass, Chris Date of Interview: 8/2/2007 Series: SENC Volunteers Length 60 minutes

Jones: Today is Thursday, August 2, 2007. And I'm Carroll Jones with Chris Malpass. Our guest this morning is Norma Luther with the Azalea Chapter of American Gold Star Mothers, Incorporated. And Norma has just returned from a national conference, will tell us about the group, as well as her volunteer work and other local activities. Good morning, Norma.

Luther: Good morning.

Jones: And thank you for coming to share your history with us. Let's start just to get to know a little bit more about you. Where are you from? What brought you from wherever that was to here, meaning Wilmington?

Luther: Okay. Right. I was born in Madscott, West Virginia, a very teeny, tiny, little town off of I-77. It's actually a bedroom community--they like to use that word these days in describing communities of a town called Beckley. And a-almost everybody does because it's right off of I-77. And people take that route to go to Ohio or Kentucky or any place in the Midwest, I guess, from the East coast. I spent my whole youth there. I graduated from high school there. And at that point I was the oldest of a large family. There were five of us. I guess that's not too large. But I had two brothers and two sisters. And being the oldest, my father and I disagreed on where I should go to school. And I had already been accepted in Huntington at a nursing school. And he didn't like that. So--and I didn't like the option, which was to stay in town and go to the local it was a junior college back then.

Jones: Let me ask you this. Did he object to the fact that you would be leaving home or objecting to the fact that you would be dealing with people's bodies as a nurse?

Luther: No. He just didn't like the nursing profession for some reason, probably some old-fashioned reason. But--

Jones: 'Cause I've heard this from other women who wanted to be nurses or went to nursing school and their fathers said "You are touching other people's bodies," as one example.

Luther: Uh . . . no. He didn't ever mention anything that--like that. But he just didn't--he wasn't willing to pay for me to do what I wanted to do. And so unbeknownst to him the--at that time it was called the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company. And there were four of five companies all grouped together. They had offices in D.C. and Maryland and Virginia and West Virginia. And so they came to our school looking for workers as soon as we graduated. So I didn't tell them. I went through the whole process and got the job. And then I went down one morning. And I said "Hi. I'm going to leave here."

Jones: Did you go to D.C.?

Luther: I went to D.C.

Jones: That's where just about all of you went.

Luther: Yes. Almost everybody that left went to D.C., especially the girls. I think some of the boys did. But our state was unique. I found out that's where my husband came, and he was from Tennessee. So he came up there for the summer and went back and went to school. But it was a good place, a close place to go and see what the world was all about and earn some money and, you know, get away from home a little bit. But anyhow, I didn't make it back to school. I met my husband there. He was from that area. In fact, he was a native, which is very rare. He was born in Sibley Hospital. So yes. So his parents were there and his brother and sister. And so we had a great extended family there. And we raised our children there.

Jones: How many children did you have?

Luther: Three. A boy first and then--no, two boys and then a girl. And from that point we began to--I think--I'm trying to remember exactly. My oldest son was in junior high school in Arlington, Virginia. And we moved to New Jersey for my husband's job. And it--up to this point--

Jones: What did he do?

Luther: He was a manager of photo facilities--photo processing. Not copiers, photo processing. So he took a job there. And up to this point I had been working for the telephone company. I quit after I started having my children. I stopped working and stayed home to take care of them because it really wasn't an easy to thing to find a babysitter for three children under four. And it was a losing proposition. Yes. They came fast. And I used to joke and say "I didn't really know how to stop it." So when I found out, that was it. But I worked part-time for those years. And then when we moved to New Jersey I couldn't get a transfer at that point. So I ended up doing other jobs. I worked in insurance. I worked at an eyeglass shop, you know, the vision center type places. And I loved that. That was fun. But just--they were just fill-in jobs because he was remember during that time, he was the main breadwinner. And I was just the adjunct to that. I could make a little money if I wanted to. And it was nice and helped out. And we had vacations from that money. But it wasn't what we counted on. So there we were in New Jersey. And I--the only thing I knew about New Jersey what--was I remembered a Life Magazine article that I had read one time in the past. And it was all about the Mob in Jersey.

Jones: In northern New Jersey?

Luther: Yeah. But that's--that was my thought "Oh, gosh, are we gonna"-- because in this article it talked about how the Mob families lived right around you in your communities. And I thought "Oh, my goodness, you know, I hope we don't have any problems here." But we went and loved it. It was five years that we were there. And they were wonderful years. Our kids loved it. I worked and finally ended up getting back with the telephone company there. And we just--we had a great time. But my husband and I didn't have a great time together. So we split up. And--

Jones: And your children were how old at this time?

Luther: They were at that time they were all in junior high and high school.

Jones: That's a difficult time.

Luther: Yes, very. So my oldest son was actually graduating from high school that year. And I figured if we were gonna make a move or if we were gonna do something, that that would probably be the best time for the other two. The other two were just going into was ninth and tenth grade. So uh . . . I went back home to West Virginia.

Jones: Did you?

Luther: I did.

Jones: Was it difficult to make that transition back?

Luther: Very, very difficult.

Jones: You had family there?

Luther: Yes. My mother and--

Jones: Was that maybe an overriding reason that you had family there, that children could have a sense of?

Luther: I think so because it was in the '70s.

Jones: That's a difficult time period.

Luther: Mid-'70s and there was marijuana use everywhere, not just with kids. I hate to say--I'm sure you remember. It was a lot of adults too.

Jones: It's was a wild time.

Luther: It was a very wild time. And I just thought my--I would be better and my kids would be better off in a smaller community--that was a naive thought, But that's what I thought at the time--with lots of family to surround them. And it did work out. They were happy there. And my oldest son then went on to West Point. So he never actually lived there. He wasn't old enough to go into the Army. And he had signed up to go to Fort Rucker, Alabama, for flight school. So waiting when he signed up--when he had his induction ceremony or whatever, that same day they called him into the office of whoever was doing the inducting. And they had read his test scores and said "Have you ever thought of going to West Point?" And he said "No." He really hadn't. He just wanted to fly. And he wanted to go to V.P.I. And V.P.I. was a difficult school to get in from out of state at that time. So we had talked to the admissions person down there. And they said "Go anywhere for the first semester and you can come in. I guarantee you." And so that's more or less what his plan was. Well, in the meantime he met this man at one of his part-time ski jobs. And he happened to be an Air Force officer. And they formed this little friendship. And he talked to him a lot. And he said "Well, if you want to fly, why don't you start out in as a warrant officer?" So he kind of took that path. In the meantime I'm in the background here, you know, just doing my thing, trying to make it from day to day and raising the other two and keeping them out of trouble and working full-time. And a lot was going on in the background in my life at that time. My husband and I got back together again at that time. And we were together for several years while this was going on.

And so my son ended up going to West Point. And the other two were in high school there in West Virginia. And we had our little trials there. For one thing the school system there was behind the New Jersey school system. And I remember at one point my middle son, Russ, came home and said "Mom, they said I can't graduate unless I take Earth Science." I said "Earth Science? You had the Advanced Placement course of Earth Science." I forget what they called it now some-- maybe I'll think of it later. But they had a very fancy name for Earth Science and just an honors course. And I said "Well, did you tell them that?" And he said "Yes. But they said 'You have to take Earth Science.'" So, you know, I spent several hours in phone calls back and forth, ended up having to go to the school board, which was an embarrassment to me because my brother was also on the school board. He was Assistant Superintendent but not in those studies. And I tried to keep a low profile. And anyhow, lo and behold, he didn't have to take Earth Science. And it worked out that it helped some other people who had come in from out of state to be able to graduate without taking these named courses. But we had a good time there. And gosh, I don't know how to segue into the--

Jones: So your children grew up. The others go away to school. And they seemed to probably do all right. What happened to you after you became an empty nester or did you?

Luther: Well, I did. I really did. But I guess I have to tell you what happened to the other two to get beyond that. My middle son also loved flying and anything to do with airplanes. The two boys were just--I don't know where they get got it. I don't know. Nobody else was in the service even. Well, their older uncle was. But he had, he'd just been for four years and got out. It wasn't that he wanted to do a career thing. I think he was trying to get away from home at that time too. But nobody had any career in the military at that point on either side of our families. But they ended up with this love for flying. And they both ended up getting their private pilot's license during their lives. And the oldest one joined the Army for the warrant officer program for excuse me, not the warrant officer program, for traffic controllers. It was a two-year program. And my middle son was a true middle child. He--he's a wonderful father and- and husband now. But he gave me a lot of grief in his high school years. And I said "Russ, if you do that, you know you're gonna end up in the brig. You don't- you don't listen to me. You know you're not gonna listen to anybody else." And we'd laugh and joke about it. But I was really kinda concerned myself. And but that's what he wanted to do. And he did it. And he now works for the F.A.A. in Washington, D.C. He just this past year went into an office-type category. Not--he doesn't do traffic anymore. But on an occasional basis he does.

(Crew talk)

Jones: I've heard that traffic controllers have a very short life span mentally. It is such a demanding job.

Luther: Well, I think that's a little bit of fiction. There's a lot of truth to it. But I think that--I think they like to perpetuate that because it gives them a little bit--little bit more glamour to their job. And it is a difficult job. I'm not downplaying it--I don't want to downplay it at all. It's very difficult. And if you can't hold the big picture in your brain, you can't do it. So it does take a special type of personality. And my son fit that exactly. He can do--he can have 100 things--101 things going. And he knows where everything is and never lets the ball drop. So it was a perfect job for him. And it allowed him to make a lot of money, which was one of his goals was to make a lot of money. But he didn't want to go to school. He just didn't have the--they were all gifted. All three of my children tested in the gifted programs and were in the gifted programs in school. But with Russ it was a daily struggle to get him to complete his s- assignments. So we didn't push him to go. And he loves what he's doing today. He does--now, he's some sort of a liaison between the controllers and the rest of the people at F.A.A. or if they need to know something about an airport.

Jones: And he's happy?

Luther: Yeah. He loves it.

Jones: And you're happy with him?

Luther: Loves it. I asked him the other day--I said "Well, how is the new job coming?" 'Cause it's almost--well, he started in January. And he said "Oh, Mom, it's the greatest thing. I love it." So he's happy. And he has three girls. The oldest one is 20. And the middle one is 16 now. She got her driver's license, it's maddening, even when they're not in your household you still worry about them. And the youngest one going to be 14 in September. And they're all wonderful girls. They're all different. The middle one is a sportster. She loves--she loves soccer and hockey and any of those kind of sports and is constantly either banged up or got a cast on somewhere or something, you know.

Jones: She'll change eventually.

Luther: I don't know. I don't know. She's pretty strong in that area.

Jones: Tell us about your daughter. You have a daughter. She was the youngest?

Luther: Yes. Christy, she excelled. There's just no other term for it. She was in all-state chorus--was the pianist for all-state chorus. And she went to a little school in Tennessee called Milligan College. It has a Biblical background. And that was what she wanted to do. She does--didn't particularly like larger schools. She did get accepted at V.P.I. but had no real interest in that size community. So she did well, graduated, took her first job with a company called Mead Data, which sells materials printed and computerized to law firms and well, lots of different types of firms, but especially law firms. And she did that for a year and then decided that she had thought she might go to, further into music but realized that it didn't pay as well and it was a long, hard struggle. And she thought she'd try to make some money before she went down that avenue. So she went back to school and went to law school. She graduated from William and Mary. And she came to--this is bringing me to Wilmington, see. Yep. So she decided that she would try to clerk the first year or two. So she got a clerk position with Judge Howard in Greenville, North Carolina. And he loved her. And she loved him. It was just a marriage made in heaven for work. He thought of her as a daughter. He was kind of her first and only really strong mentor. He just--he just really took her under his wings. And his wife loved her. His children, they all knew each other. So it was a great match. It was a wonderful thing for her. And finally after two years he said "Christy, you have got to get out of here. I'd love to keep you forever. But, you know, you've got to go practice law if you're gonna do anything." So she did. She went out into the corporate world. And then that company was Ward and Smith. And they have an office here in Wilmington. So after a couple or three years they had an opening here. And she transferred down here. She beat me to it. 'Cause I'd had a transfer in here down to Wilmington from the phone company for years and years and years. And it just never worked out.

Jones: You had put in for this?

Luther: Yes.

Jones: Was there a reason you put in for Wilmington?

Luther: I thought it was a beautiful town.

Jones: So you'd been here as a visitor?

Luther: Yes. Probably five or six times.

Jones: When was this, Norma?

Luther: That all happened in the early '90s.

Jones: Oh, okay.

Luther: She graduated from law school in '91.

Jones: But you had been down here around the same timeframe, early '90s?

Luther: From 1966 until 1991 actually I came down to White Lake, North Carolina for a family reunion, my husband's family every summer the first week in August. And so what we did the--either the first or the second week after--before or after the lake, we would go to Surf City or Topsail and rent a house and have a good time at the beach. So I met through a phone company I met a lady who I became very close friends with. She worked for the telephone company as well but in Bell South. And we would talk all the time. And occasionally I would come to visit her. And I just, I just thought "This is where--."

Jones: So you watched it grow?

Luther: Yeah. I did. And I thought "This is where I want to be whenever I retire if not before."

Jones: Now, were you still with your husband at this time?

Luther: At that time, yes. '91 is when we divorced finally.

Jones: And you moved down here in '91?

Luther: No. No. I was still in northern Virginia. But Christy had come down here to work for Judge Howard. And then she moved down here in 1996 from Greensboro-- Greenville. There's a lot here. So her father and I did divorce, that was like our third try. But it took. It was sad. But it--we were both happier apart. And after our son was should I back up here? My son--my oldest son was killed in a helicopter crash in April of 1988. And so--

Jones: Was this in action?

Luther: No. He was on--he was in--on duty at a scheduled flight. But it was bad weather. Right. And so whatever we had left in our marriage was lost completely with the death of our son.

Jones: You want to take a minute?

Luther: Yeah. (Tape skips) So when our son was killed, my husband and I tried a little bit longer and went to some counseling. And it just didn't work. So we split up for good at that time. And as I said previously, Christy then was working for Judge Howard in Greenville. And then she stopped working there and went to Ward and Smith. And then when Ward and Smith had an opening here, she came to Wilmington. She beat me here. So--

Jones: That's all you needed then?

Luther: That was all I needed. I said "Well, I know where I'm going." But I remarried and probably too quickly as you will know in a minute. But I married a man who was had been with the Department of Education, excuse me, Agriculture in D.C. And so he took a job with the Food and Agriculture Organization, which is an arm of oh, my goodness. I'm losing it.

Jones: Are you talking about a state organization or national?

Luther: Worldwide.

Jones: I'm not sure. Could be any number of things.

Luther: No. The big one. U.N. See, I told you. The United Nations. It's an arm of the United Nations. And how could I forget that? But all I could think of was all these other names. And they weren't fitting. So we went to live in Rome, Italy.

Jones: Now that was perfect.

Luther: That was wonderful. It was a dream come true 'cause I love to travel. And we did a lot of traveling. I've been to Hong Kong. I've been to uhm--

Jones: This was all in the '90s?

Luther: In the early '90s. Yep. I've been to Bangkok, Shangmei, Singapore. I've been to Russia, to Moscow. I've been all over Europe and some in South America. I just--I just had a wonderful time. We had a great marriage. It just--we just didn't last. But we did have a good time. I have no bad memories of that and no hard feelings. Hopefully he doesn't either. It was--he had lost his wife. And it was kinda, like, we both jumped together probably too soon.

Jones: He needed something?

Luther: Yeah. It--but it was a good bridge for us. And we had--

Jones: And look what you got out of it.

Luther: I know. All that wonderful--Rome is absolutely--I had been there a couple of times but only for, like, a few days. And I wasn't real happy. I thought "Well, if we were going to Italy, why couldn't we go to Florence or Venice or"--you know. But Rome was wonderful. It was so much more than what I had gleaned in those few trips--the other trips where we'd just seen the highlights, you know. So I worked with the United Nations Women's Group there. And I went on walks--tours. You know, they call them walks there. Every week I went a different walk for three years. I mean, there is so much to see. Yes.

Jones: What are did you live in?

Luther: Right in central Rome. We--the first apartment was so close to San Giovanni, which is Saint--Saint John Laterano that we felt--our windows shook when the bomb went off there in--I think it was '90- '94 maybe.

Jones: The pope?

Luther: Yeah. And the--no. That would've been '93, I think. So then we moved out a little bit further because the apartment was wonderful, very beautiful apartment. But it was right on a central bus route. And there were, like, three buses that stopped right below our windows. And we were up high. But it wasn't high enough. And so my allergies kicked in. And we found another apartment out overlooking the Appia Antica, the Appian Way. Oh, that was beautiful. I had a gorgeous terrace. The terrace was almost as big as the apartment. It was just beautiful.

Jones: I remember. I lived over there for several years.

Luther: Did you?

Jones: Yeah.

Luther: Well, that's right. We have a lot of things in common, I think. But I really hated to leave because I had so many good friends. But they--they have--most of those people have since come back to the States or gone back to the country that they were there from. So it was just a magical time for me. But when I came back, I was kind of at loose ends. I didn't really know what to do. And I had left the telephone company, severed my ties there and just quit. So I left a large or I was I was very much in jeopardy at that point as far as finances go because I had just said goodbye to a 22-year career. And so anyhow, I thought "Well, this is not too bad. It was worth it all," and just went out and looked for a job. So I found some little jobs. And then my mother got sick with cancer. And I put everything that I had in storage and went and stayed with her for almost a year. And then she passed away. So I went back up, that was in, back in West Virginia. You can see the pattern here, back and forth. And so then I came back to the D.C. area and Springfield and went to work for Verizon, it was called then. It was Bell Atlantic at the time. And shortly thereafter it was Verizon. And I worked for them for the next eight years. And so my finances were fine. I was okay. And during that time I met my husband now. He--

Jones: You got another one now?

Luther: I got another one.

Jones: I tell you, you are something else.

Luther: And he's a keeper, I think. I think he'd say that of me too. But he worked for Associated Press. And he worked on Capitol Hill. He covered Congress for 20 odd years. And--

Jones: Is his name Luther?

Luther: Yes. Jim Luther. Yep.

Jones: Wait a minute. I know Jim Luther. I know a Jim Luther.

Luther: There is another Jim Luther here in town. I think he's in the military. 'Cause when we first moved here, we kept getting calls for a Jim Luther. So anyhow, we're tired here now and very happy. I thought maybe being a writer all those years that he would want to do some writing. I mean, I would if I had been an author or wrote many, many articles and had them published and so forth. He was on C-Span even. He won't let me even watch his tapes from C-Span. He's a very shy and very private person.

Jones: What does he do now?

Luther: Nothing.

Jones: You're the doer?

Luther: He doesn't--he does something. He keeps our yard looking gorgeous. He has a beautiful garden. He loves his roses. He is busy every day from--so he's happy.

Jones: Why don't you get on about your involvement with this American Gold Star Mothers and also your involvement--Wilber told me that you were sort of on the board for Salvation Army and did a great deal of work for them. And he said a few other things. I said "Well, let me find out from her." But tell me about the American Gold. You said you'd just been to a conference.

Luther: It's called their national convention.

Jones: Tell us about that and what you do. I see at all these different events that are representative of the military. And so there's got to be something that draws you and keeps you involved in that. I know your son. But for historic value purposes can you just discuss that?

Luther: Right. Historically I think it's very important because when my son died, I looked for ways to work through the grief because it would be very easy for somebody to just sit down and veg away. And I told my husband one day "If I don't do things like this, then I will have an early death." 'Cause I am a doer. And- and I like to be with people. And I like to make sure that what I'm doing is benefiting others. And so we had to come to an agreement on that because he's a quiet retiring person and I'm not. But when my son died, I looked around for different ways to--I read every book on grief and how to get through it and how to work through it. And in the back of the one of the books was a list of organizations that you could belong to. And one was the American Gold Star Mothers. And so I rang them up and told them "I'd like to become a member. I think I want to become a member," is what I said. And they invited me to a meeting. And there were-- at that point I think I was, like, 47. And there were a lot of old women in the room, very old. They were in their--these women had lost their sons in Korea and Vietnam mostly. That was the biggest population. So most of the women were much older than I was. And I thought "I don't know if I can fit in here or not." But they wanted me because I was young. I had energy, which is the same position I'm now, trying to recruit people. And so they would ask me to go with them to different functions, and I would. It was kind of like I was their token young person in that particular chapter. And I knew what- what it was. But I didn't care. I just wanted to help them. And I would listen to them and listen to their stories and listen about their sons. And, you know, I knew, I knew what they were talking about because I was living the same thing. There was the age difference. But it was the very same thing. So I went to conventions, not national ones but to many different meetings that were, like, department level, not national. And then when I moved to Rome, I wasn't involved anymore. So there was a big gap there from, like, '93 until--or '92 rather until 2003. That's ten years.

And so one day after we were retired and living down here, I sent an email to them--to American Gold Star Mothers. And I said "I'm Norma Luther. I'm living in Wilmington, North Carolina. And I was a member of the Alexandria chapter. And Imogene Cupp was the President of the chapter. And I would like to become involved. Are there any other groups down here?" Imogene Cupp was on the other end of that email. She immediately emailed me and said "Norma, how are you? And there are no Mothers down--basically there were no Mothers down here except for myself and one other lady." And she said "Why don't you try to start a chapter?" So I said "Okay. We'll try." And I met with Vivienne Sharber. And we started running ads in the paper. And we would go anywhere that military personnel was going to be and dress in our white clothing, which is the trademark of Gold Star Mothers, is they dress all in white for public functions. And we would just go up and introduce ourselves to people just- just to become known and not for ourselves, but to try to find other members. You had to have five. Well, it took us about six months. But we found those five members. And now we're up to 19. But that's state-wide. So--

Jones: What is your goal? What kind of meetings do you have? Is this a reinforcement thing or do you go out and comfort newly-widowed ladies? There are certainly a lot of them at this point, mothers and that sort of thing.

Luther: Well, Gold--American Gold Star Mothers has several goals. But the two main goals are: number one, to support each other and, number two, to support veterans and their families. Yeah.

Jones: That's what I was getting at.

Luther: Right. And so--

Jones: You told me that.

Luther: Yeah. And that's why we would go to these military veteran types events, because there was no other way to get to know these people except to try to search for them. Because with the new privacy laws, it's very, very difficult to find out where people are. So we were--we've been pretty successful. We're scattered. We have about five members right here in Wilmington. And three of those are our--in their early eighties and not in good health. And so we try to administer to them as we can, you know, and keep calling and make sure that they know that we are here if they need us and that sort of thing. And then with the rest of the group, the ones that are--the rest of the group now, it's the situation that I was in. They're all in their forties. Their sons and daughters are being lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. Right. And--

Jones: Do you have much interaction with them at that stage?

Luther: Yes. We do.

Jones: Do you find them to be a little bit different than you were in their outlook or are they more accepting?

Luther: They're exactly the same. The same. And that's what keeps me going. Because occasionally I'll say "Why am I doing this?" It's so hard. I called a mother last week. I was making some phone calls from a list that I had of fallen soldiers in North Carolina. And the woman was at work. And so I said "Are you Mr. So-and-so?" And he said "Yes." And I said "Well, how are you doing," just being nice. And so he told me. And he was--first of all he said "Well, I think she needs help more than I do." And I said "Well, I'll try to call her back in the evening." And then when we started talking, he broke down completely three or four times. And he was so embarrassed. He just kept apologizing.

Jones: These were parents though?

Luther: Yes. Parents of a fallen soldier in Iraq. And I kept telling him "Don't be sorry. I know how you feel." And I still cry buckets of tears. And it's been 19 years. You will never not cry at some point or another. You need to do this to help yourself heal. And I--when we hung up, I went "That's it. No more phone calls today." I just, I didn't have the strength for another phone call 'cause--

Jones: Norma, do you have interaction with the wives from Lejeune? There's some who live down here.

Luther: The Gold Star Wives? Not really. The only interaction I've had with Gold Star Wives is on Gold Star Mother day in D.C., which is the last Sunday in September. And I usually go to that 'cause I lived right there. And so I've been to several of those. And the Gold Star Wives chapters in the area, they come 'cause their national people there too.

Jones: How about the children? Is there anything in place to help these people get over certain hurdles? Are these women, the mothers, wives, are they taken care of as far as medical facilities or psychological facilities or income is going to stop for them in many cases or make a big difference, the children in school and their medical whatever? Are you involved in that all?

Luther: Only to the extent that we that we attempt to find answers for them if we can because we have no clout really not Gold Star Mothers. We have no clout. Because it's--even though it's an old organization--it was started in the 1920s--we still only have 1100 members. And it's an aged population with the exception of the new mothers that have come into the organization. And I'm always amazed because there's T.A.P.S., which is the computer branch of help. And they have so many different things and so many different ways to help. And I'm always surprised when a mother--frankly, I am surprised when a mother joins American Gold Star Mothers now because our organization is backwards in many ways. But that's why I decided to get back involved and to stay with it, because even though we have T.A.P.S. and we have Gold Star Wives and Gold Star Siblings, we have all these groups, at the end of the day sometimes for some people the Gold Star Mothers is what they need. Because in a perfect world you'd have a mother and a father and siblings that all live together and got along and handled their grief together. But that's not a--we don't have a perfect world. And that's not the way more than 50 percent of the families are.

Jones: Do you find any kind of antipathy at all in today's world with the sentiment about the Iraqi war being a false war and people being anti-military in their mindsets in many ways? Have you run into this?

Luther: All the time. And every time someone wants to do an interview with the Gold Star Mothers, they want to know what our position is. And so we tell them before the interviews now "We don't talk about that because we're not political." And if you canvassed--if you had ten mothers in a room and you canvassed them, you'd have ten different opinions. And--

Jones: True. What you're really all about is taking care of those who are living psychologically to know they're not alone?

Luther: Exactly.

Jones: And the children as well?

Luther: Right. And I was talking to a mother via email again who lives in uh.. Raleigh. And I asked her why she didn't want to join Gold Star Mothers, just to try to find out what we could do maybe to change that. And I knew that she used T.A.P.S. a lot. And she told me that she didn't want to be separated in her grieving process and her working through it process from her husband and her children. And I had already told her that there were siblings and there were associate--associate dads, associate siblings. They can all join. They just don't have voting rights. And they do a lot with the family. But it's not perceived that way. And that was her point. She said "I don't want to do this separate from my husband and my daughter." And I told her--I responded to her, and I said "Well, I'm very, very thankful for you, that you have such a strong family and that you're tied together so well." And I said "But remember, there are many, many people, if they're married--if the marriage is not going well and this happens, they can't withstand that. So they're alone, the man and--the father and the mother. And then the children sometimes get sandwiched in-between. And there's nowhere to turn for them." So you have to--I my mind it's very important-- and I hate to say this because it kind of smacks of putting people in boxes. But if you don't take care of the mother in about 95 percent of the cases today--even today, I should say--if you don't take care of the mother, the rest of the family doesn't get taken care of. And I wish it wasn't that way. I wish fathers would and I think they are more and more and more. That's the one thing I see through meeting these other families is the fathers are getting involved. And they are going places with their wives. And they are trying to handle the problems that come with their children with their wives. But it--there's still a whole lot of cases out there where that's not true. So Gold Star Mothers still has a very valid place. And that's what I--

Jones: Do you have, have you gotten any support, whether it's financially or spiritually or anything else in Wilmington? There are so many veterans that live here of all the different wars. I mean, World War II veterans are really dying out and at a great rate. But enough time has elapsed. And since then we've had--some people call them conflicts. I don't care what you call them. People die.

Luther: I know. They love to call it a conflict. It's a war.

Jones: I know. But at any rate, whatever it is, the men and now women who have died in these conflicts, these wars, I have seen a number who live here, families, younger women who married again, they're here. But they still, because of all that comes around them today, people are so decided one way or another and very hot in their feeling about what's going on in the Middle East right now. Some are against this tremendously. They don't want to have anything to do--they want a reminder. And some are gung ho and say "Yes. I'm there." What have you found in your capacity? I know you probably go Memorial Day and all these other things that they have, the cemetery and such.

Luther: One of the hardest things, believe it or not, in this area as you mentioned, having lots of military people and so close to Camp Lejeune--it was surprising to us. They don't know what a Gold Star Mother is. If they don't know what a Gold Star Mother is--yes. But it--you would think the military would at least know. We have run against chaplains, officers, high-ranking, that don't know what a Gold Star Mother is. So when we go somewhere, the first thing we do is ask "Do you know what a Gold Star Mother is?"

Jones: It's amazing.

Luther: It is amazing especially now because we've been in this conflict/war now since 2003. And there's been many, many--well, I'll tell you what people know about Gold Star Mothers now. Nancy--Cindy Sheehan. So for a long time she's a Gold Star Mother. She lost her son. I grieve for her as much as anybody else. That doesn't mean that I think the way she does. She and I probably are miles apart. I've never sat down and talked to her. But from looking at her actions, she does things that I could never in a million years think of doing.

Jones: She's doing the ruinous thing by ruining herself.

Luther: Who knows? I mean, I will not judge her because I don't know her and just like I will not judge another person that I do not know. However she has caused us to have to say--do you know sometimes they'll say "Oh, you're talking about Cindy Sheehan." So when people started saying that, then we started saying "Do you know Cindy Sheehan, Do you know who Cindy Sheehan is?" And they'd say "Oh, yeah." And I'd say "Well, she's a Gold Star Mother because she lost her son. She doesn't belong to Gold Star Mothers, the group. But she is a Gold Star Mother by an awful right." And so we've had so many conversations come up by odd things like that. But when we are getting more good feedback now, like, at the last year. Recently Vivienne and I went to Scene Three, I think is the name, of the group. They had us come over on Flag Day. And that was a wonderful meeting. And we spoke to them. And--

Jones: There sure were a lot of people from New Jersey in that group.

Luther: You know, I detected the accents. Yeah. And being--

Jones: I'm (inaudible) most of New Jersey and Long Island moved, at last, down here and they all belong to those groups.

Luther: But it's good that we have those groups for them. And those are some really nice people. The nicest people--well, I think I've met nice people everywhere I've been. I can't say "The nicest people were here or there." But I met some wonderful, wonderful people in New Jersey.

Jones: You're a people person and a giver, aren't you?

Luther: My husband would you tell that I'm a social butterfly. But I'm not because I'm shy.

Jones: Before we end the tape, I want you to get on and tell me how your involvement with these being a caring person with those who've lost loved ones translates into the work at Salvation Army as well? It would have to segue that way.

Luther: Well, my faith is very important to me. And I've always been involved in church and choir and youth groups and taught every Sunday, Sunday school class there is when my kids were coming up. And so it--to me the best thing to do when I moved to the area was to try to find my niche. I knew I'd volunteer. But I didn't know where. I used to say--

Jones: This was after you fell in love with Wilmington?

Luther: Yeah. I used to say "Well, I'm gonna go down to Wilmington. And I'm gonna play Bridge once a week. And I'm going to sit at the hospital desk and conduct people around and, you know, as a volunteer," just being funny. But it's so far from what I actually do now. I went to one of their meetings. My daughter, Christy, lives here. And she had been on the advisory board. Did you know her when she was on the board?

Jones: Mm-mm.

Luther: She was Christy Adams at the time. And I think she sat on the advisory board for three or four years. And so then when I moved down here, she took me to one of the luncheons that the auxiliary had. And I came away from that meeting just feeling so good. Those women--and they are all women, I'm sorry. They are. We haven't gotten any men to join the auxiliary. But that's because it's named "Wilmington--women's auxiliary," I guess.

Jones: That's a good clue.

Luther: Anyhow, they do come to some of our functions. I came away from that meeting just we were walking down the street to our car. And I said "I feel like I'm really close to heaven right now." And I said "That is the most wonderful bunch of people I've been with in a long, long time." And she said "Mom, I feel the same way. They were-- they were so nice." And uh.. it wasn't that they had a real spiritual meeting because we had a funny-- I- I mean, a l- laugh out loud funny, ha, ha, ha, skit that was so far from heaven, you know. It was just down to earth. And anyhow, I said "Well, I think I'll join." And so I joined. And she joined as a supporting member 'cause she was I think she was working for the courts at the time. And I just went to the meetings for about a year and a half. And then one day they asked me to read something at one of the meetings. And then they forgot me. And so I--during one of the lulls, I said "Do you still want me to do this?" And so they said "Oh, yeah, yeah. We forgot it." So then I went up. And I made a big deal funny, ha, ha, comedy thing out of it. And they saw me. They hadn't seen me 'cause I am very quiet. I'm very, very shy. I would never put myself out there at first, you know. If you give me something to do, then, yeah, you'll know me. But if I just am an attending, you will never get to know me. People don't, they don't recognize my face. I don't know what it is but they don't. They do not. And if they do happen to look at me, they say "Oh, you look like somebody I know." But anyhow, from that day forward I did attend their meetings. And I got involved. And they had a vacancy in the second Vice President slot and asked me to do it. I said "Okay." And now this year I am the President.

Jones: You've been very hands on with that group though?

Luther: Right. I got involved right away. In October we in the past we went out into five communities and took applications for Christmas help to families. And then that was translated into angels. And then in November we start the angel tree. And that's where we saw each other last year. And I was in charge of the angel tree last year and I will be again this year. From the angel tree we . . .

Jones: Would you explain so the viewers on this what the angel tree is for?

Luther: Sure. When the--

Jones: Carrie, our granddaughter, took several of those to her school and came back with them.

Luther: Great. Good. When we interviewed the families-- these are families that are handled through Social Services. They're very needy for lots of different reasons. It may be economical. It may be because of health various things. You can't--you really can't put them in a category. There are many different ways that they end up in Social Services. But Social Services lets them know that we're coming to take applications. And we talk about their families. We take all that information. And we write down their children's names, ages, sizes. And then we take that detail and put it on a little card. And those children then become angels. We put them on the Christmas tree. And a person can come to the mall. We're hoping this year to have Christmas trees in several of the business, like P.P.D. and Corning and, you know, some places like that.

Jones: Those are very visible in the mall.

Luther: Right. And we had, we had close to 2000 last year. And we didn't get them all out. We handled it another way. But we didn't get them all out to the public. And this year we want to make sure that we do get them all take care of. But someone would come by the angel tree, pick out an angel. And their sizes are there. And we ask for clothing. We started that last year. Because Toys for Tots, the Marine Corps thing, they get all of the toys that anybody could ever need.

Jones: But I went to the warehouse for Salvation Army last Christmas and saw just--it was mind-blowing.

Luther: That's right. That was from Toys for Tots. They bring it to us. That's where they bring it. That I didn't know when I first started. But they do bring it to the Salvation Army. Because they don't really have an avenue of giving it out. So they give it to us. And then last year with the--with the new officers here, they started a different procedure for passing these things out. They invited the parents to come and shop for toys.

Jones: I was there when that happened one time.

Luther: That was wonderful. It really was. So here we were with clothing in the right sizes for the children and the parents choosing the exact toys that they wanted. It was a perfect match. It was wonderful. And so we're gonna do that again this year. And so I got in--I mean, that just- that just really captured my attention. And I thought "How could I not get involved in this? This is wonderful." And the other part of Salvation Army women's auxiliary is the fact that we do fundraisers to get money for their homeless shelter. So I thought about this a couple of years ago. I was thinking "Okay. You're in a different situation now. You came down here thinking you were gonna retire, play Bridge and volunteer one day at the hospital. And now you're doing this. Why are you doing this?" So I had a soul-searching time. And because I was, like, really busy. And I was, like, "This is almost like a job. I'm gonna have to try to work this out a little bit better." And so I took a couple of weeks. And I thought about it and prayed about it and meditated on it. And the reason that came out of all that is that I have a desire to help the homeless--always have had.

Jones: We've got three minutes left. And I want you to talk about Wilmington and fulfilling your desire to help. Do you find great needs here? There are so many different organizations, whether it's from the family abuse centers and the other social services and so forth. Do you coordinate or is it all separate? You reach out--a great number of children. That's satisfying?

Luther: Right. It is satisfying for me because doing the applications, I became aware of the many different organizations that Wilmington does have, the many different ways that they have out there to help people.

Jones: Do you feel that you are all helping, that it does make a difference?

Luther: Absolutely. It really does because there are built-in fixes so that people cannot-- 'cause where always had those who are trying to buck the system. And so you- you try to take care of that. And I think they have done that here. The Salvation Army says "If you come to us for help, you can't go to another source for help." And when they come to us, then we try to get them all the help they need. They get food. They get toys. They get clothing for all their children.

Jones: Can you sum up what you feel is needed most in Wilmington? Can you sum up in just a couple of minutes where you would like to take your talents at this point? Just continue (inaudible).

Luther: I think that's it. Because, I mean, I'm past 65 now. And there's a point where you have to stop and you have to slow down and you have to choose--you can't go out five days a week and do things like you used to do. And so for me I will continue this, working with the Gold Star Mothers and working with the Salvation Army uh.. in the- the areas that we just talked about. I think Wilmington is in a great place. They have a lot of programs in place. They just need to make sure that they can continue to maintain them and make them better and better as the years go by. If--the senior center is a wonderful place. And they do a lot of--with volunteers there. The one place where I think we could use more help is if the rest of the population would decide to volunteer as much or almost as much as the retired people do. I know it's hard. You're still working. You're still raising your children and so forth and so on. But it's very important to bring your children up knowing that there are people out there who have needs that you can help with. And I like to see the families that come to the toy shop with their children to help fill the stockings or to do other little jobs that need to be done during that Christmas season. And those are the kids that are gonna grow up then and go out and do what I do, what their parents do.

Jones: Norma, thank you for all that you do. Thank you for coming and sharing this with us. You are rare, I think. You must know that. But I think that you mentioned you're past 65. I don't think age is a thing to do with it. It's the mindset, the will and the outlook and the spirit. And obviously you have all of those. So I appreciate this. And we hope some time that you can call on us. We'll help.

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