Sunday, April 18, 2010

Blue Star Mothers, Gold Star Mothers

This is my excuse for not having puppy pictures up a week ago…they are coming up next!

I wrote this as a synthesis paper for my Advanced Composition class. The main source is Penguin's World War Poetry.

                                 Blue Star Mothers, Gold Star Mothers

We are all familiar with the army and the navy. We hear about the marines and the National Guard. But there is another branch to America's defense, a branch that spreads across all: the mothers. When their strong, brave sons and daughters leave, they are strong enough to remain behind. While their children venture into battle with artillery, they battle with prayers. Every letter, every phone call, even the sound of a car on the drive makes them pause. Is it her son? Or someone to tell her there is no one left to listen for? They hang banners in their windows to remind us of something they can never forget. They see how war changes people; they see the shadows in the eyes of the men and women they once comforted on their knees. These are the lucky ones. Others see the flag, draped over a coffin like the blanket over his cradle too few years ago, as blue stars turn to gold.

World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars, but still the wars continue. It was during this war a custom began of hanging a banner with a star for family members fighting in the war. A Blue Star Banner, or Service Flag, as it is also called, is white with a red border and stars down the center. It was designed and patented by World War I Army Captain Robert L. Queissner of the 5th Ohio Infantry, who had two sons serving on the front lines. It was later designated by Congress as the official flag to be displayed in honor of a family member serving during war or hostilities in the United States armed forces. There is a blue star, symbolizing hope and pride, for each family member serving. If one of these is killed in combat, the blue star is covered with a slightly smaller gold star, symbolizing the sacrifice made by the family (H. Con, Res. 109). The custom continues today.

"And for each one, far off, apart, / Seven swords have rent a woman's heart" (3. 11-12). So ends Marjorie Pickthall's poem, "Marching Men". Referring to the sorrows of Mary, the mother of Christ, she reminds us of those who watched as their sons marched off to fight the Great War. Janie Reinart, mother of Ohio National Guard Specialist Joseph Reinart and coauthor and coeditor with Mary Anne Mayer of "Love you more than you know: Mothers' Stories about Sending their Sons and Daughters to War", writes that she "had thought about sending her son away to school, away to a new job, away to be married, but never, never away to war" (19-20) Theresa Hooley, in her poem "A War Film," shows a young mother during the first World War who does think of it:

The sudden terror that assaulted me? . . .

The body I had bourne

Nine moons beneath my heart,

A part of me . . .

If, someday,

It should be taken away

To War. Tortured. Torn.


Rotting in No Man's Land, out in the rain -
My little son . . . (3.16-25)
She than thinks of the mothers, so many mothers, who watched their sons march off to the war that had already claimed so many. Another woman writes to Jane Addams, chairwoman of the Woman's Peace Party:

We are, through God's grace, the parents of two big, healthy boys, and it is, when with motherly pride I look at them, that my heart is wrung at the thought of all those mothers . . . who have to send forth these treasured tokens of God, either never to see them again or else to get them back crippled or blind or demented (Denkert 127).
And indeed, few, if any, make it through war untouched. In her children's novel, "The Singing Tree," Kate Seredy gives a vivid picture of a family in Hungary during World War I. They are safe from the fighting, but still the war reaches out its hand, scarring the ones they love. One woman, after her husband's brief (and unauthorized) visit confides in a neighbor: "This man . . . He was not my Peter. He was a stranger I don't know and, God forgive me, I cannot love (Seredy 162)." He had changed, now lashing out against the neighbors and home he had once loved-- He had learned to hate. How many mothers found their sweet little boys turned to angry, hate-filled men by this cruel machine they called war? Much of the poetry from World War I is dark, angry, and frightening—reflecting the horror of the trenches. This horror didn't end with the war. We read poems like "The Survivor Coming Home," and see Robert Graves close with the lines "'Safe home.' Safe? Twig and bough / Drip, drip, drip with Death!" (6.29-30). If this is difficult for us to read, think how much more so it must be for a mother who not only reads it, but sees it in her child's eyes…a nightmare no hug can erase. Mary Anne Mayer tells us too, that the war didn't end with her son's return. Though his physical wounds healed, he still seemed distant. She could look into his eyes and see there were stories she would never hear. One blue star mother of World War I writes her son:

When you come marching home old fellow bring me back the same boy I gave my country, - true, and clean, and gently, and brave . . . Live for her [his future wife] or if God wills, die for her; but do either with courage (Gordon 130).
Of the three sons sent, two stars were to be covered with gold. This has happened to so many mothers, after seconds, minutes, months, and years of hoping and praying their babies make it home safe.

    How does one endure those long hours of separation, waiting and wondering not knowing if their loved one is safe or suffering? When each day may bring the call that he has been hurt or killed? Poems like Jessie Pope's "Socks" show the wandering mind of a mother knitting for her soldier. He was so brave saying good bye. Was he warm enough? What were the newsboys saying? No, it isn't his battalion. There is so much he doesn't know! But he'll be alright, surely. (1-20) One wonders how long she can believe that, how long she will fight the tears. Mary Anne Mayer tells us she could not echo her son's brave prayer, "God, let Your Will be done, I got no control here." She wanted her son home safely. (33) The rosary and Daily Mass for all the soldiers gave her strength, however; for "who would better understand the suffering of our troops than Mary, who stood and watched the Passion and death of her Son?" (32)

    Although Janie Reinart and Mary Anne Mayer both saw their sons home again safely, there are many who have not been as fortunate. There is an image forever engraved in the mind of the Mrs. Mayer: the mother of one of her son's fallen brothers, sitting in front of the Pieta statue, that tragic figure of Mary holding Christ after His Crucifixion. "It is really the wives and mothers etc of these boys with the glassy eyes who do the real suffering" 1st Lt. Edward Lukert wrote his wife during World War I. "They are laid away in countless graves but a telegram is dispatched to the 'nearest kin,' who lives to remember and mourn and grieve" (161). How many telegrams were sent? How many more only received a card saying their son or daughter was missing in action? One Civil War mother received a letter from a woman whose family had cared for her son when he died. Imagine her sorrow at hearing that her son's last words were: "My dear mother, if I only could see you once more before I die!" It was a wish that was never granted. (Liggan 95) In a letter to her son, Richard, who was killed in Vietnam thirty years before, Theresa O. Davis writes of the emptiness that she felt at hearing of his death, though she had to "put up a front" for her younger children, who had already lost their father to war. "I still miss you." She writes. "I will always miss you" (Davis 440)

    "Under the level winter sky / I saw a thousand Christs go by." Marjorie Pickthall begins "Marching Men." "And for each one, far off, apart, / Seven swords have rent a woman's heart." (1-2, 11-12) She begins her poem with tribute to the sacrifice of so many men and women who have suffered, even unto death, for so many people they will never meet. She finishes the poem with a reflection on their mothers, who suffered and suffer still. Each deserves honor, and none should be forgotten.

Works Cited:

"Blue Star Service Flag." 12 April 2010.    -service.html image

Carroll, Andrew, ed. War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars. New         York: Scribner 2001.

Davis, Theresa O. "Letter to her son, killed 30 years before." Carroll 440-441

Denkart, Mrs. M. "Letter to Jane Addams." Carroll 127-28

Gordon, Kate. "Letter to Son" Carroll 130

Graves, Robert. "The Survivor Comes Home." Walter. 171

Hooley, Theresa. "A War Film." Walter 190

"H. Con. Res. 109--108th Congress: A concurrent resolution on the Blue Star Flag, outlining its         history and encouraging continued use." (database of federal legislation).     2009.    April 11, 2010 <         108_cong _bills&docid=f:hc109enr.txt.pdf>

Liggan, Martha. "Letter to Mother of Confederate Soldier." Carrol 94-96

Lukert, 1st Lt. Edward. "Extended Correspondence." Carroll 156-162

"Mary After the Crucifixion." A scan of an antique holy card. No other information available

Pickthall, Marjorie. "Marching Men." Walter 43

Pope, Jessie. "Socks." Walter 189

Reinart, Janie, and Mary Anne Mayer. Love you more than you know: Mothers' Stories about sending their Sons and Daughters to War. :Gray & Co. 2009.

Seredy, Kate. The Singing Tree. 1939. New York, NY: Dell 1975

Walter, George, ed. The Penguin Book of World War Poetry. New York: Penguin 2004

No comments:

Post a Comment