Tomorrow is the centennial anniversary of the day that peace returned to the world in the hopes that the Great War was the war that ended all wars.
One tradition was started during the Great War that continued on during World War II and, later, the Korean War. Today, the tradition has been extended to cover modern military conflicts and service.
During the Great War, Captain Robert L. Queisser, of the Machine Gun Company, 5th Ohio National Guard, created a simple service banner to hang in his living room window in honor of his two sons, 1st Lt. Charles F. and 2nd Lt. Robert L., who were serving in the same regiment as their father.
To use a 21st century term, Captain Quiesser’s flag went viral. People loved it.
Gold Star Banner
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Star banners began to appear in the windows of family homes which had one or more member serving in the United States’ military forces during World War I. Its simple concept of one blue star representing each military family member soon expanded to include a silver star representing a family member wounded, ill or injured and a gold star indicating that the family had lost a husband or son in active service.
With the end of the Great War, Armistice Day, 11 November 1917, peace was finally at hand, but millions of lives in total had been lost with about 100,000 American deaths overseas.
Wives and parents of the fallen were offered a choice to either have their loved ones remain buried in Europe or to have the bodies shipped back to the United States for local burial.
About 1/3 of those families opted to have their sons and husbands remain buried in American cemeteries near where they had died.
During World War I and then into the 1920s, several important activities took place. Military mothers had begun to meet during wartime, both to comfort each other, grieving for their losses, AND to care and give comfort to veterans far from home.
Next, on 4 June 1928, Grace Seibold, who lost her own son in the Great War (and whose body was never recovered), met with about twenty other women, who voted to formally organize the Gold Star Mothers as a non-profit support community.
These ladies had remained extremely active after the close of the war to such an extent that they visited the White House and met with President Coolidge:
Gold Star Mothers visited Arlington Cemetery and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The bugler that day was Sgt. Frank Witchey, who sounded taps on 11 November 1921, when the “soldier known but to God” was entombed:
Gold Star Mothers at Arlington Cemetery, 1924
Source: Library of Congress Digital Collection, Public Domain
Due to lobbying on the part of families who had chosen to keep their loved ones buried in Europe, Congress, in 1929, approved a budget of $5,000,000 for the sole purpose of providing a free, all expense paid trip for mothers or widows who hadn’t remarried to the European cemeteries where their family members were buried.
On 7 February 1930, President Woodrow Wilson’s wife, drew 54 envelopes, one at a time, from a silver bowl. The envelopes represented the 54 states and American territories which were eligible to participate in the cemetery visits. Nebraska won the right to be the first state to offer the trips to its war mothers and war widows. Eventually, 6,693 women made the trip to Europe.
The Gold Star Mothers had a lot of political clout at the time and had the respect of people in Europe. Several of the cemeteries, including the American Cemetery at Flanders, even have reception rooms in the cemetery headquarters:
As the United States entered World War II and, later, the Korean Conflict, Gold Star Mothers continued to support and serve. In fact, Blue Star Mothers and Silver Star Mothers organizations popped up. Today, the Silver Stars is known as The Silver Star Families of America.
Each of these organizations remains active and strong. If you or someone you know is the mother/spouse of a current service person, a service person who has been injured or become ill during enlistments or has lost a family member in active service, please consider checking out these websites: