Mothers turn grief into service

WAY BACK WHEN

Back Story

May 26, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

White service flags with a blue star hanging in windows of homes, businesses, churches and schools were once ubiquitous symbols of wartime America, reminding passers-by of those who were away serving in the military.

A gold star sewn over the blue star meant a loved one had given his life for his country while in uniform.

It was Grace Darling Seibold, a Washingtonian, whose grief for a son killed in World War I led to the founding of American Gold Star Mothers Inc., a national organization that helped other mothers who had lost sons in the Great War cope with their loss and assist wounded servicemen recovering in military hospitals.

In 1917, Seibold's son, George Vaughn Seibold, enlisted in the armed forces and was sent to Canada, where he was trained to be a pilot. He was assigned to the 148th Aero Squadron of the British Royal Flying Corps.

Seibold, who was 24, was shot down during aerial combat over Baupaume, France, on Aug. 26, 1918, and it wasn't until Christmas Eve when a postman delivered a box with their son's personal effects and a letter from his commanding officer, that they learned he had been killed. His body was never found.

In 1918, the War Mothers of America, a forerunner of what would later become the Gold Star Mothers, was founded, and the next year, a chapter of the organization was established in Baltimore.

"Amid silence broken only by the sobs of the `gold star mothers', and in the presence of a distinguished company ... a grove of trees in Druid Hill Park was dedicated yesterday to the fallen heroes of the world war," reported The Sun.

President Woodrow Wilson had acceded in 1918 to a suggestion by the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defenses that, rather than wearing conventional black mourning bands after the death of a son, women would wear a black mourning band on the left arm decorated with a gold star for each family member who had lost his life during the war while serving in the military.

Seibold's organization of 25 mothers, who took their name from the gold stars that hung in their windows honoring their dead sons or daughters, met in Washington on June 4, 1928, to formally establish American Gold Star Mothers Inc.

During the early 1930s, contingents of Gold Star Mothers made several pilgrimages, authorized by Congress and paid for by the U.S. government, to visit the European cemeteries where their sons lay buried.

In 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a boost to the organization when he signed a proclamation designating the fourth Sunday in September as Gold Star Mothers Day.

Because of the enormous losses in World War II, membership peaked at nearly 30,000 with chapters across the country.

After Katherine M. Mannion, a Belair-Edison homemaker, lost her son, August G. "Todd" Mannion Jr., who was killed while serving with the Army in Vietnam in 1966, she joined Gold Star Mothers to help deal with her grief while helping others.

Mannion, who wore the gold star that symbolized the loss of her son for 36 years until her death in 2002, was national president of the organization from 1980 to 1981. She served six times as president of its Maryland-Delaware department, and was president of Gold Star Mothers of Baltimore for many years.

In 1989, there were 4,000 members; today, the organization that honors the mothers of both men and women, has fallen away to slightly more than 900.

Carol A. Roddy, an Abingdon nurse whose son, Navy Petty Officer David Roddy, was killed in Iraq last fall while defusing an explosive device, has, like Seibold and Mannion before her, turned to the Gold Star Mothers to help deal with her grief.

"I have my gold star in the window," said Roddy, who is working to revive the Maryland chapter of the Gold Star Mothers.

"We have about 30 moms and most of them lost sons or daughters in Vietnam. We have three Iraqi Freedom moms, including me," she said in an interview the other day.

Roddy got the job of trying to get reinvigorate the organization when she visited its national headquarters in Washington and asked, "How do we get this going again?"

"They said, `Well, how about you?'" Roddy said.

She is working to get Gold Star license plates in Maryland, and reports that families in Virginia and Pennsylvania recently were entitled to them.

"There is also a movement nationally to get a stretch of highway dedicated to Gold Star Mothers, and here in Harford County, Route 23 between Bel Air and Jarrettsville has received that dedication and the signs will be going up shortly," she said.

As she and her family deal with their grief, she recalled the promise she made to her son.

"I promised David I wouldn't protest the war. This is my tribute to him," she said.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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