Gold Star Mother Helps Other Army Families Connect in Crisis

After her son died while serving in the Air Force, she threw herself into volunteering with the Red Cross.
March 23, 2018 Updated: September 21, 2018    

The severe injury or death of a loved one can be crippling. However, for this woman, tragedy inspired her to do more.

Diane Frappier has been volunteering for the Red Cross since 2005. She and her husband Jerry used to specialize in fire and natural disaster relief, working arduously to help the victims.

Unfortunately, the Frappiers would experience not one, but two family tragedies.

Frappier is a Gold Star Mom. Her eldest son, David, died while serving in the Air Force.

David Frappier. (Courtesy of Diane Frappier)

Frappier’s second son, Matthew Cooke, served in the Marine Corps and the Army. He had completed two tours of duty in Iraq.

He was preparing for his third deployment, this time to Afghanistan, when the unthinkable happened.

During the Fort Hood shooting, Cooke was shot five times while throwing himself on top of a comrade he didn’t even know at the time.

Cooke suffered three gunshot wounds to the back, one to head, and one above his right ear.

Cooke was in the back of a privately owned truck when a good samaritan found his phone and dialed “Mom.”

At first, Frappier thought the call had to be a mistake.

She didn’t think her son, Cooke, would be in the building where soldiers prepare to deploy since he was to deploy two months later.

Cooke was strapped to a gurney, but not immediately operated on. He didn’t have any exit wounds, and doctors didn’t realize how serious his injuries were until he started to bleed out on the gurney and onto the floor.

Cooke had to be airlifted to Scott & White Hospital in Killeen, Texas.

Matthew Cooke. (Courtesy of Diane Frappier)

When Frappier arrived at the hospital in Killeen, Texas, the first thing she saw was a group of women sitting at Red Cross table. All she knew was that her son had been shot at Fort Hood.

Frappier remembers a Red Cross worker named Phillis immediately noticed her. She walked toward Frappier and embraced her.

“She just, this one lady, she just looked at me and instinctively came over and gave me a hug,” Frappier said in a phone interview.

Cooke was in a coma for four days, and needed 12 units of blood. Frappier was at the hospital with her son for ten days, and someone from the Red Cross was always there with her.

As a result of the shooting, Cooke sustained a traumatic brain injury. He also has to contend with PTSD.

It was this experience with the Red Cross and being in the hospital that inspired Frappier to do more.

“For them to just be there, so we could have somebody we could cry with or talk with, it got me more involved.”

While Frappier had been volunteering with the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces since 2007, her experience with her son being shot drove her to commit more time and effort to her role.

She wanted to help families and service members connect during a crisis, just like when Cooke had been shot.

“It just motivated me to do more. I wanted things done, and I wanted things done with heart,” she said.

Cooke receiving the Purple Heart. (Courtesy of Diane Frappier)

Prior to Fort Hood, Frappier volunteered a few hours a week. Now she volunteers between 40 and 60 hours a week.

With more focus on her role with the Red Cross, she went 10 months with no paid staff. Nevertheless, her team won a first place national award for commitment toward service members.

Now, Frappier leads the Division Hero Care Network Casework Quality Assurance division for the Mid-Atlantic, and handles seven states.

Frappier and her team are tasked with notifying a soldier serving overseas that there is an illness, death, or other emergency in their family.

When a military family has an emergency, a loved one can contact the American Red Cross in order to get that message to the military member.

Frappier and her team’s responsibility is to verify the emergency and make sure the message gets to the military member’s commanding officer in the field—in a correct and timely fashion.

As a result, the military member can get emergency leave.

That means the military pays for the service member’s trip home and back, which¬†“takes a lot out of their minds,” Frappier added.

Blood donors at a Red Cross facility in Killeen, Texas. (Ben Sklar/Getty Images)

She performs her job so quickly because she understands how it feels to be on the waiting end. As a result of going through similar experiences, her work personally and emotionally affects her too.

One emergency message she had to send really stuck with her. A woman was about to have a baby, and her husband was stationed in South Korea.

Frappier’s team passed on the message—and as much as the father wanted to be back at home for the birth of his child, he knew he wouldn’t make it back in time.

But Frappier is a mother and knows nobody wants to miss such a life-changing event.

So, along with the woman’s doctor, Diane and her team were able to set up a Skype session for the couple.

Even though he was on the other side of the world, the service member and his wife were able to experience the birth together.

“She was just so excited. Here she had her new baby, and her husband was able to be with her to give her words of encouragement. She was telling me how great it was to go through that, and know he was there, and that he was able to encourage her and talk to her,” Frappier recounted.

The experience was uplifting for Frappier as well.

“It’s such a wonderful feeling to know that you were able to step into this family’s very personal life, and know that you were the one who was able to facilitate it. To make it happen for them. It’s a feeling of pride. You just feel so good about what you do.”

March is Red Cross Month. To volunteer, you can go to www.redcross.org

If you have a story, write to Andrew Thomas at andrew.thomas@epochtimes.nyc