Happy Independence Day!

We’re celebrating Independence Day with a look back at one of the more patriotic events of the year. Susan Mitchell-Mattera, who went on the 2 Sides Project inaugural trip, was one of just a handful of Gold Star sons and daughters to receive an invitation to The White House on Memorial Day. She went as part of Sons and Daughters in Touch, an organization that provides support to the U.S. Gold Star children and other family members of those who died or remain missing as a result of the Vietnam War. She shared with us pictures and recollections of the day she visited “the People’s House” and met the President of the United States.

What were your first impressions of the White House?
We got through security and were directed down a hallway, which was filled with family photos. My first thought was this is so warm and welcoming. It felt like a home, just very comfortable. I was reminded of what Ambassador Osius said to us as he greeted us at his home in Hanoi. He said “this is the people’s house, and you are welcome here.” So it felt natural to be there, especially with my brothers and sisters from SDIT.

Susan outside the private guest entrance to The White House. Photo courtesy Susan Mitchell-Mattera.

Susan outside the private guest entrance to The White House. Photo courtesy Susan Mitchell-Mattera.

You got to meet the President and spend a few minutes with him. What stood out for you about that moment?
He was so tall! I remember his smile and his eyes. And he was so genuine. He gave each of us his full attention. I brought my Dad’s harmonica with me and he took it and looked at it. I told him it was one of the few things that came back with my Dad. I also had six dog tags that Jeanette Chervony had given us, with the names of the 2 Sides Project participants’ fathers on them. He looked at all of them and read our fathers’ names and I told him we’d been to Vietnam and met with the other side. Then he asked me what I did, and I told him I am a hospice nurse. He said "it takes a huge heart to do hospice, keep up the good work."

Susan in the Lincoln Room of The White House, where breakfast was held. Her father's harmonica, which was returned from Vietnam, is in her left hand. The dog tags she holds in her right hand, a gift from Jeanette Chervony, bear the names of the fathers of the first six who went on the 2 Sides Project trip to Vietnam. Photo courtesy Susan Mitchell-Mattera.

Susan in the Lincoln Room of The White House, where breakfast was held. Her father's harmonica, which was returned from Vietnam, is in her left hand. The dog tags she holds in her right hand, a gift from Jeanette Chervony, bear the names of the fathers of the first six who went on the 2 Sides Project trip to Vietnam. Photo courtesy Susan Mitchell-Mattera.

Given all you've done and seen over the last year, what’s on your mind this Independence Day?
I’ve always been patriotic. But over the last year there’s been one word that keeps coming to mind, and that word is gratitude. I’m so grateful for these last 12 months, for all that’s happened, for the people I’ve met. I met the President of the United States, veterans during Rolling Thunder, and the governor of California. And I met sons and daughters who lost fathers in the war fighting for the other side. I’ve been thinking about them a lot, about how much stronger we are as a group because we have bonds with people on the other side. I'm stronger now, too.