Gold Star Mother keeps her Marine son’s memory alive

LYNNWOOD — Myra Rintamaki knows she raised her son to care about others. As she looks at the Eternal Flame placed outside the Snohomish County Courthouse by the Gold Star Mothers of 1928, she thinks of his four years as a U.S. Marine corporal.

Steven Rintamaki enjoyed peacekeeping missions, and training missions. In June of 2004, just as his enlistment was due to end, the 21-year-old Marine volunteered for one last mission to Iraq, extending his service. He was killed in action that September.

“He served with passion for the Marines,” said Myra Rintamaki, 65, of Lynnwood.

In the 10 years since her son’s death, Rintamaki has carried on his passion, caring for the memory of fallen service men and women, and honoring veterans and their families.

She has served many communities through the years.

During her years as a trauma nurse at Harborview Medical Center and UW Medicine, she volunteered whenever and wherever she could, traveling to impoverished corners of the world.

She adopted Steven when he was 8 months old, and later his younger sister, Tiarrah. She continues to be a foster parent.

The family would spend Fourth of July on the Olympic Peninsula. Steven would go to all the nearby Indian reservations in search of fireworks, bringing home the biggest booms he could. His fascination with heavy artillery stuck with him as he grew.

“I remember when Steven told me he wanted to be a Marine. I was OK with it. I viewed it as a career choice more than anything. When he told me he was joining the infantry, though, it made me nervous. The infantry, you know, they use big guns. Steven was a gunner,” she said.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17. The military offered him structure and camaraderie. That was in 2000. A year later, when terrorists attacked, he believed he was right where he belonged.

“Once a Marine, always a Marine, we’ve all heard that. The same is true for Marine families,” his mother said.

Following his death, Myra Rintamaki shifted the focus of her volunteer efforts to programs that support military men and women, and their families.

“With the loss of my son, they have all become my extended military family,” she said. “All that I do is in honor of my son.”

Today, Rintamaki is the former president of the American Gold Star Mothers Inc. Washington Chapter and current president of the Ladies Auxiliary to VFW Post 1040.

She was a founding member of the Washington Gold Star Mothers, a revived chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers that dwindled after Vietnam. In her time as president, she was instrumental lobbying for a bill that created commemorative Washington license plates with a special Gold Star designation, to recognize the families of fallen warriors.

She also spends Wednesdays with the Red Cross, volunteering with Services to the Armed Forces at Naval Station Everett. She is responsible for contacting active-duty military in emergencies, or when there is a death in their family. The Red Cross also helps to get service men and women home during family emergencies.

For the Ladies Auxiliary, she organizes events for veterans and their families, such as the annual welcome home luncheon for student veterans at Edmonds Community College.

Right now, the Ladies Auxiliary and VFW Post 1040 have become the new caretakers of Veterans Park at the Lynnwood Civic Center.

Previously funded through the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Department, the park now will be kept up mostly through volunteer efforts. Stone monuments recall the sacrifices made by the nation’s warriors in modern times: Europe and the Pacific Rim during World War II; Korea; Vietnam; the Middle East. Cobblestone paths wind through the park. They are bordered by bricks, each inscribed with the names of veterans of foreign wars. Steven Rintamaki is among them.

“The garden is a symbol of remembrance, of life and rebirth. Being part of that is very healing,” she said.

The Ladies Auxiliary will be planting four times a year, and are looking for donations of small plants and flowers, or monetary donations. With the fall and winter efforts finished, the Ladies Auxiliary is now looking to the spring planting.

The future of the Ladies Auxiliary is dependent on new membership, she said. Through action, they hope to pique the interest of new, younger members to build a stronger and more sustainable organization.

“Come and take a look, we might be doing something you’re interested in. Learn how you can give back to the service men and women of this country,” Rintamaki said.

Andrew Gobin: 425-339-300, ext.5461; agobin@heraldnet.com

For more information

Anyone interested in more information about the Auxiliary or would like information about membership, please contact Myra Rintamaki, Auxiliary President, at 206-235-0348.

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