Gold Star mother continues fallen son's legacy

  • Published
  • By Alexandra Shea, Evans Army Community Hospital

Terry Chapman isn’t a soldier, but she does serve as a GI Granny. Her uniform, a black polo shirt with an embroidered patch, reads: “GI Grannies and Gramps, Soldier Support.”

Her rank: founding member.

“I moved here from Cincinnati so I could be closer to my kids and grandchildren,” Chapman said. “I’ll keep volunteering as long as the group and I still exist.”

Founded in 2012, the GI Grannies and Gramps volunteer their services at Fort Carson’s Warrior Transition Battalion by providing birthday cakes, creating hand-sewn items, hosting dinners, giving encouragement and handing out lots of hugs. The volunteer group consists of 16 local community members, veterans, and blue and gold star family members.

Blue star members have a spouse or child serving on active duty, while gold star members have lost a spouse or child in combat. Chapman lost her son during the Battle of Robert’s Ridge in Afghanistan.

Courageous Son

Her son, Air Force Tech Sgt. John A. Chapman, served as a combat controller with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron when he was attached to SEAL Team 6 during Operation Anaconda in March 2002. The mission was to establish an observation post on the side of Takur Ghar Mountain.

Tech Sgt. Chapman and his team contended with thigh-deep snow as they engaged enemy combatants to rescue a fellow team member that was blown from their helicopter while taking heavy machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

The intense firefight would last more than an hour and claim the lives of seven team members, including Tech Sgt. Chapman’s.

More than 15 years later, Tech Sgt. Chapman posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

“Even though he was mortally wounded, John continued to fight on. He really fought,” President Donald J. Trump said at the award presentation ceremony. “Through his extraordinary sacrifice, John helped save over 20 American service members.”

Tech Sgt. Chapman’s widow, Valerie, and their two children attended the ceremony and accepted the medal Aug. 22 in Washington, on what would have been their 26th wedding anniversary.

“It was surreal,” Terry said. “It was like I was in a dream. I really don’t have words to describe it. They went above and beyond to honor Johnny.”

Presidential Praise

During the ceremony, Trump spoke about the events of the battle and the bravery demonstrated by the team. He also spoke about Tech Sgt. Chapman’s generosity and willingness to help others throughout his life, recounting a story of him standing up to a school bully for a friend.

“He wasn’t an angel,” Chapman said of her fallen son. “He did get into mischief -- good mischief. But he always had such a good heart. I’ve been blessed with four very compassionate kids.”

She recounted a story from her son’s youth about how he and his brother parked a neighbor child’s bicycle in a tree as a joke. Upon discovering the bike, the neighbor girl was upset. Terry recalled how her son marched to her door after finding out how upset she had become and confessed to hiding the bike. To make amends, he returned the bike and apologized to the girl, saving their friendship.

“He made the best of every situation, even when things were horrible,” Chapman said.

The whirlwind trip to Washington meant long days and short nights for the Chapman family. After returning home to Colorado, Chapman took the weekend to rest. The following Monday, she was back to her duties at the Warrior Transition Battalion. Surrounded by her fellow volunteers, she was serving birthday cakes and cards to soldiers with an August birthday.

“This is our way to honor our sons, as well as to honor the men and women who serve our country,” she said.

Terry Chapman, a volunteer with the G.I. Grannies and Gramps at U.S. Army Medical Department Activity –Fort Carson’s Warrior Transition Battalion, began volunteering for the organization in 2012 as a way to honor her son and Medal of Honor recipient, Air Force Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman. Photo courtesy of G.I. Grannies and Gramps