What is an American Gold Star Mother?

After many years working in newspaper archives in search of clues to migration patterns for a specific group, I came across an article that contained the name of a woman who was included in my research. This woman’s name was included in a list of Gold Star Mothers, or women who were entitled to make a pilgrimage to their loved ones’ graves overseas at the expense of the U.S. government.  More than 17,000 mothers and widows were eligible for this program, which began in 1929. When the project ended in 1933, nearly 7,000 women had taken advantage of the offer to visit the graves in Europe.

According to the American Gold Star Mothers’ Web site:

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, George Vaughn Seibold, 23, volunteered, requesting assignment in aviation. He was sent to Canada where he learned to fly British planes since the United States had neither an air force nor planes. Deployed to England, he was assigned to the British Royal Flying Corps, 148th Aero Squadron. With his squadron, he left for combat duty in France. He corresponded with his family regularly. His mother, Grace Darling Seibold, began to do community service by visiting returning servicemen in the hospitals.

The mail from George stopped. Since all aviators were under British control and authority, the United States could not help the Seibold family with any information about their son.

Grace continued to visit hospitalized veterans in the Washington area, clinging to the hope that her son might have been injured and returned to the United States without any identification. While working through her sorrow, she helped ease the pain of the many servicemen who returned so war-damaged that they were incapable of ever reaching normalcy.

But on October 11, 1918, George’s wife in Chicago received a box marked “Effects of deceased Officer 1st Lt. George Vaughn Seibold.” The Seibolds also received a confirmation of George’s death on November 4th through a family member in Paris.

Grace, realizing that self-contained grief is self-destructive, devoted her time and efforts to not only working in the hospital but extending the hand of friendship to other mothers whose sons had lost their lives in military service. She organized a group consisting solely of these mothers, with the purpose of not only comforting each other, but giving loving care to hospitalized veterans confined in government hospitals far from home.

Initially, the Blue Star was used in the early days of World War I to represent each person who served in the U.S. military. As the war progressed, the Gold Star came into use to represent those who died in combat. The Gold Star was superimposed upon the Blue Star and entirely covered it, representing the supreme sacrifice that this person made in serving his or her country.

Initially, a group of twenty-five mothers residing in Washington, D.C., met to organize what was to become the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. (AGSM) on 4 June 1928. One year and one day later, the organization was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia. By the end of three months, the membership had climbed to sixty-five. The group, which is nondenominational, non-profit and nonpolitical, was mainly composed of women who had lost a son or daughter in World War I.

During the 1942 National AGSM convention, the membership opened to mothers who had lost a son or daughter in World War II. Membership was open again after the Korean conflict. Now, the AGSM opens its doors for membership to any “natural Mothers, who are citizens of the United States of America or of the Territorial and Insular Possessions of the United States of America, whose sons and daughters served and died in line of duty in the Armed Forces of the United States of America or its Allies, or died as a result of injuries sustained in such service.”

Adoptive mothers and stepmothers who reared the child from the age of five and whose natural mother is deceased also are eligible.

One of the traditions upheld by Gold Star Mothers is the wearing of white, rather than mourning black. While the origins of this tradition are not fully understood, it’s believed that “white made a symbolic statement that went beyond mourning, a statement of peace, sacrifice, innocence and goodness. Those were the things that their children had been and had died for – wearing white celebrated their children’s contributions while the gold star acknowledged their sacrifice.” The history of wearing white goes back at least to 1925, and now veterans recognize these mothers as those who are wearing white.

You do not need to be a member of the AGSM to receive a Gold Star pin. There are 2 different pins, and they are awarded by the Defense Department. Which one you are awarded depends on the circumstances of your loved one’s death. You can find more information about this pin at the AGSM site.

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