Memorial Day: Gold Star Mothers

img138Memorial Day, patriotic holiday celebrated in May, honors Americans who gave their lives for their country.  The tradition began after the Civil War and includes the many wars since then.  The price of freedom; yes, there is a price.  And not only for Americans.

Back in time to the first World War, when a soldier left for war, it became customary to hang a silver star in the window of the family home.  If that soldier died then the lone star banner hung in the window became a gold one.

Gold Star MotherAnd behind the dead soldiers there were the mothers who lost a son or daughter.  After World War I, The Great War for Civilization,  a group of mothers bonded together and became known as the Gold Star Mothers.   They were activists who wanted their sons (and later, their daughters) remembered for their sacrifice for the cause of freedom.  These mothers helped raise money for monuments, organized Armistice Day activities, and encouraged patriotism in this country and abroad.Gold Star Mother Ellen Moody Ward

Wilbur Ward with Medal WWIMy great-grandmother Ellen, who I never met, was a Gold Star Mother.   Leaving Dawson County, Montana in 1917, her second son, Wilbur,   assigned to the Army 26 Infantry 1st Division was killed in action at Cantigny, France May 29, 1918.  He lies buried, along with hundreds of other soldiers, in French soil, at the Somme American Cemetery.
The back of his war medal says: “The Great War for Civilization” and lists the following countries:  U.S., France, Italy, Serbia, Japan,  Montenegro, Russia, Greece, Great Britain,  Belgium, Brazil, Portugal, Rumania, and China.

S.S. Republic TODid you know that in 1929 Congress passed legislation authorizing the secretary of war to allow Gold Star Mothers and widows with next of kin buried overseas to travel to Europe as guests of the nation?  I have the Special Pilgrimage Passport of my great-grandmother.  She, along with her daughter (my great-aunt Mary) traveled aboard the S.S. Republic from New York to France in 1930.  I have many original artifacts from that trip:  diaries, passports, newspaper clippings, identity card, metals, decals, flags, pilgrimage medal.

Passport PageHotel de ParisPilgrimage Identity Card  After arriving on the coast they traveled by train to the Hotel De Paris located at Boulevard de la Madeleine.  One side of the identity card is written in French and the other side in English.

There were ceremonies in Paris and then another train trip to the battlefields and cemeteries.  The last few pages of both diaries have handwritten names and addresses of other pilgrims of that journey; families from New York City, Arizona, California, Louisiana…

Here’s what they saw:

Somme France graveSomme American-Cemetery — Bony (Aisne)

The ceremony at the grave sites was arranged by the French Veterans Association of Saint Quentin–Aisnecementery

I have a booklet published in 1959 listing the American Overseas Military Cemeteries and Memorials.  There are many in France, and also Belgium, England, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Italy, Philippines, North Africa, to name a few.    You would think one World War would have been enough.

The Somme Cemetery contains the graves of 1,837 of our military Dead.  Most of these lost their lives while serving with the British Armies, or in the operations near Cantigny in World War I.  Inscribed on the Walls are the names of the 333 Missing, whose remains were never recovered or identified.

“Do Not Forget” became the mantra of the Gold Star Mothers.  “Do Not Forget.”


About Wings of Wonder

Linda Ruddy is a creative with a diverse range of interests in writing and painting. She currently is revising a middle grade novel, and author and illustrating a picture story book. She is an active member of SCBWI, Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators. Linda has a body of paintings, which form the foundation of her artistic development. This work can be viewed on her website: Her recent illustrations are an outgrowth of the style she developed in these paintings. Another passion is sculpture. Linda often uses her figures as models for her art. Linda's blog is eclectic and journeys wherever her muse guides her attention. Her blog address is: Following the muse, Linda Ruddy
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10 Responses to Memorial Day: Gold Star Mothers

  1. catherine says:

    This is fascinating..thank you for sharing. What a beautiful remembrance to our brave fallen warriors.

  2. Cindy says:

    Thanks for that awesome tribute and bit of history, Linda. You do good work!

  3. robin says:

    Linda, I am so moved by this tribute not only to the sons who lost their lives in hope for a better world, but for their bereaved mothers and loved ones. Thank you.

    • So much family history gets lost so I needed to write this. I appreciate that Ellen became an activist or there might not be a Somme Cemetery.


  4. So interesting! Thanks so much for sharing. Those who were left behind sacrificed so much as well – they deserve to feel our gratitude.

  5. Stacie says:

    Linda, I am so glad your blog was forwarded to me. I have really enjoyed reading about great-grandma and the contributions she made to help honor our country’s fallen heroes, what a strong and proud woman she must have been! Thank you for taking the time to share this family history, I have passed it on to Jamie and her daughters (Ellen’s great-great and great-great-great-granddaughters).

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