Tony Rossi, Director of Communications
Uniting the Gold Star Children of Vietnam
It’s estimated that 20,000 American children lost their fathers in the Vietnam War. To
make things worse, these kids had no way of connecting with each other at the time, which
would have allowed them to bond with those who understood their pain. Tony Cordero became
one of those children at age four in 1965, when his dad, Air Force Major William E. Cordero,
died during a mission. Prior to his father’s death, Tony’s family – consisting of his dad, his
pregnant mother, and his three siblings – lived together in off-base housing in the Philippines.
Afterward, the family returned to California to be near their grandparents, who became role models to Tony and his siblings, especially in practicing their Catholic faith.
For the entirety of his youth, Tony never knew any other kids whose fathers had been killed in Vietnam. As he approached age 31 in 1989, which was one year older than his father had been when he died, he researched whether there was an organization that connected the now-adult Gold Star children of Vietnam. There wasn’t, so with the help of a woman named Wanda Ruffin, they created “Sons and Daughters in Touch” (SDIT.org) and invited people to send in their names and addresses if they wanted to be included.
This kind of effort took a lot more time during the pre-Internet age, but slowly, they received many requests to connect with the group. During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, Tony recalled, “When we gathered for the first time 30 years ago…at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial [in Washington, D.C.], we had hundreds of sons and daughters from all over the country who could look at each other and say, ‘I know what your life was like. You know what my life was like. This was not easy, but finally I’m able to stand here at the Wall with people who understand my story.’”
The annual visits to the Memorial continued, but eventually Tony felt it was time to do something more: organize a trip to Vietnam for the members of “Sons and Daughters in Touch.” They embarked on a flight to Saigon in 2003, with 50 sons and daughters, as well as 20 Vietnam veterans, one of whom was a Catholic priest.
That trip was cathartic for everyone involved, including Tony. He admits that whatever anger he had felt before toward the people of Vietnam dissipated. Tony said, “When we came back home…the boogeyman was gone. Today, my family lives in Orange County, California. We’re registered parishioners at Christ Cathedral in Orange, Robert Schuller’s former Crystal Cathedral. The parishioners there are a composite of my life. They are Caucasian, like my Irish grandparents; they are Hispanic, like my dad’s family; they are Filipino, like where we lived; and they are Vietnamese…I have incredible respect and admiration for the Vietnamese people, especially those who are in the United States today.”
SDIT has grown more than Tony could have imagined. He concluded, “This organization has had [an impact] on the lives of so many people—when in their darkest moments of despair, if they need a friend, they can simply go to our private Facebook page and ask a question or start talking to people. That gives them comfort. [The deaths of our fathers] isn’t what dominates every moment of life, but it is an undeniable fact about what happened to us, and it’s not a pretty story. The middle chapters of the story aren’t pretty, but the ending is what can be.”