Gold Star Mothers hoped to fade into history, but new wars have brought new members

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WASHINGTON —- The house is so quiet you can hear the clocks tick, except on those weekends when the mothers come in from around the country. Then the clocks are drowned out by all the chatter as everyone takes turns in the kitchen...

This brick four-story home in the chic Dupont Circle neighborhood is the clubhouse for a sorority no woman wants to join: The only qualification for membership is to lose a child in military service.

For a while, it looked as though the American Gold Star Mothers, which has tended to grieving women for eight decades, was on the brink of extinction. Enrollment pushed to 30,000 by two world wars had shrunk to 900-plus, most of them little old ladies in their trademark white suits and two-cornered garrison caps.

The thinning of the ranks wasn't a bad thing, or so thought Betty Jean Pulliam, the group's 81-year-old president. Years of peacetime had reduced the number of sons and daughters killed in action...

But the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have killed more than 3,500 U.S. soldiers, sailors and Marines, creating a wave of newly qualified Gold Star candidates. Now, the women who sent their sons to Korea, Vietnam and other battlefields —- most well into their 80s —- feel a renewed sense of duty to keep on, sustaining the memories of their lost children and consoling a new generation of bereft mothers.

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