Interview with Gold Star Mother Florence McSween
–by Kristen Tsetsi
As a little boy, Adam McSween was meticulous about his appearance.
“His hair had to be just right, and his clothes always had to be pressed just before he put them on, even if they had been pressed and hung in his closet,” says his mother, Florence McSween. “He always cared about how he looked.”
As a teenager, his mother says, Adam was a leader in his group of friends. He also loved church and volunteered to help the Youth Minister after school, on holidays, and during the summer.
“He went to college to become a Youth Minster when he got out of the Navy,” she says.
Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal 1st Class (Diver) Adam McSween was 26 years old when he was killed by an IED in Iraq on April 6, 2007, leaving behind a wife and two daughters, ages 5 and 2 at the time.
Adam, the youngest of Florence’s four children, was in a caravan of five Humvees stopped near Kirkuk when an IED in the distance shot straight up into the air, his mother says. When it came down, it “took out” Adam’s Humvee, killing Adam and two other EOD Techs.
“Even though you know it could happen, you are never prepared to hear your child has been killed,” Florence says.
Florence is a member of the private Facebook group The Gold Star Parents Brigade, created by Gold Star Mother Becky Johnson. She calls it a “safe place” for parents who have lost children to war to talk about how they’re feeling any time of day or night.
“We don’t have to worry about what we say, because it will not be shared with others who would not understand,” Florence says.
LIFT: Parents around the world suffer the unimaginable loss of a child for any number of reasons. How does a Gold Star mother’s loss differ? Why is it important to you that people know the stories of Gold Star mothers?
FLORENCE: When a mother loses a child to war, it is a loss to a country. When your child signs his or her life over to guard and protect their country, they are saying to their country that they are willing to lay down their life to keep others free and safe.
My son loved God, family, and country in that order, and it is important to me that everyone know that. I feel it is important for all to know what a Blue Star family is, as well as what a Gold Star family is. If people knew first about the Blue Star and how it becomes Gold, I think they could understand better what it means to a Gold Star Mother to make sure her child is never forgotten.
I never wanted this Gold Star. However, I wear it with pride to honor my son and the life he gave so freely for his country. And now it is up to me to carry on where he left off. The way for me to do this is to support our military in whatever way I can. I volunteer for the USO, Operation Homefront, the Remember the Brave Foundation, Georgia’s Fallen Heroes, the Purple Heart Foundation, the Wounded Warriors, and the EOD Wounded Warriors.
I pack and send care packages, and I sew pillowcases to send to our deployed troops to give them a little piece of home and let them know they are thought of and prayed for every day.
I volunteer for the Missing in America Project to give full military services to those veterans who have died without families to show them the respect they deserve, and I am always available to listen when other Gold Star families are in need of an understanding ear and heart. I try to be available to reach out and help in any way I am able, any time day or night.
LIFT: What was your reaction – your immediate feeling, before you even had time to think – when your son told you he wanted to join the military?
FLORENCE: I knew from the time he was a little boy he wanted to be in the military; however, when he was ready to join the Navy, he was still in college, so I asked him to finish college before joining.
He didn’t want to wait, so we came to an agreement that he would get his Associate degree before joining.
He always did very well in school and always had a lot of friends. Adam and I always had special times together, especially when he would come home on school breaks. We live about two hours from the airport he would fly into, and it was near the beach, so we would spend three days at the beach before coming home, and then when he got home he spent most of his time with his friends. He always had a great relationship with his siblings, also. Adam was the kind of person loved by all. He was very close to everyone in our family, he was a wonderful son, a loving caring brother, husband and father, and we all love him dearly.
He was a wonderful dad. He loved his little girls very much, and when he was home he would spend every free moment with them doing what they liked.
LIFT: How much communication did you have with him while he was deployed, and how did he sound? What were his emails or phone calls like?
FLORENCE: What communication I had with my son was always positive. He loved his job, and when he went on his first deployment, he told his commander that he would go back again – and he did. He was on his second deployment when he was killed.
He was always in the top of his group. He love talking about what he was learning, but he also love talking about his family and wanted to know how everyone was doing. He missed everyone greatly.
LIFT: You said earlier that you appreciate being a member of the Facebook group for Gold Star parent because you’re surrounded by others who understand your experience. What, if anything, do you most wish people knew or understood about military families, in general?
FLORENCE: It is not an easy life, and military families have to give up a lot to be where they need to be at any given time in their lives. They do not get paid their value. And most of all, they need everyone’s support, such as being told thank you for the job they do, for their willingness to leave their families for long periods of time to protect others at home in this country.
Also, to understand you can support our military families and not be for the war. People don’t understand the military and the war(s) are two different things. Or I should say, the military is a group of people and war is a conflict governed by leaders.
Being part of a military family means being a part of a much larger family. Being closer to those in your same branch of service. We were very much a military family when my children were born. Their father works for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, so my children grew up around the military all of their lives. My three oldest children were born overseas.
I think, also, as a military family you have a deeper sense of what it means to be an American and better understand the cost of freedom.