for the info below goes to the Holly Fenelon Collection
Permission Granted To Doc Dentice to Share On His Site
you will read the stories and see the pictures of our Gold Star Mothers.
I put this page up, in addition to my main Gold Star Mother site, because of the amazing pictures and words Holly has to share.
Mr. Harold Walters, had contacted me for help in getting information about his Great
Grandmother, who is a 2 star Gold Star Mother. So I contacted the Gold Star Mothers National.
Then I received an email from Holly Fenelon, offering to help Harold, and thats how this story started.
Holly is an unofficial historian for the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. (AGSM).
She recently published a book on the history of "Gold Star Mothers in America" and the history of AGSM.
Another book is in the works about the Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages.
Email Holly Fenelon
GOLD STAR HISTORY - GOLD STAR PILGRIMAGE
Following WWI, American families had a choice of burying their soldier sons among their fallen comrades in Europe
or having the body repatriated to the U.S. for burial. In either case, the government paid for the burial. Approximately 1/3 of America's
WWI casualties were buried in Europe in American military cemeteries established in the early 1920s. (One was in Belgium,
another in England – the others were in France.) That represented approximately 33,000 European burials.
in France was the decision that the Walters family made for Robert and
The American Military Cemeteries were, for the most part, built on or near the major battlefields of the war, and those
who died were buried in the cemetery closest to where they fell. That is the reason Robert and Valentine are buried
in different cemeteries – Robert in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery and Valentine in the Oise-Aisne Cemetery.
the decade following the war, there were repeated calls from various groups
to somehow allow the families
(or at least the gold star mothers) of the fallen to visit the European gravesites. It wasn't until 1929 that an Act of
Congress was passed to sponsor the Gold Star Pilgrimages of Mothers and Widows. (Widows were eligible to
participate if they had not remarried in the interim since the war.)
Under the guidance of the Army Quartermaster Corps, between 1930 and 1933, approximately
6,400 women (the vast majority of the travelers were mothers) traveled to Europe on month-long
trips to spend time at the place where their child had been buried. (The travel took place between
April and September each year to take advantage of the best sailing weather.) Despite starting
in the earliest and worst years of the Depression, the trip included voyages there and back on first
class ocean liners on which the women were treated like royalty, time in Paris to rest up from the
voyage and to see the war memorials and other historical sites, and a few days at the military cemetery
where their child had found a final resting place. All of this was provided by the government at no
cost to the travelers (it was estimated to have cost $840 round trip per mother/widow). It is almost
impossible to describe the importance and power that this opportunity held for these women; their
personal stories of their travels are both wonderful and very sad to read.
As a "two star Gold Star Mother", Mrs. Walters would have had the opportunity to spend time at
both the Oise-Aisne Cemetery at Valentine's grave site and the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery with Robert.
were allowed to accompany the mothers/widows, but were required to pay
own way and, for some events, to make their own arrangements. I am aware of very few mothers
and widows who traveled with other family members – I think the cost was just too prohibitive
for most families at the time to allow additional family members to participate. It would have
cost quite a bit more than the $840 price tag calculated by the government. In some cases, when
both a mother and her son's eligible widow were going, they would choose to travel together.
In the Pilgrimage eligibility book (printed in 1929 by the government), Mrs. Walters is noted as
hoping to travel in 1930, the first year of the pilgrimages. The majority of the travelers made
the trip during that year – there were approximately 300 women leaving from NY each week during
the spring and summer to begin their trips to Europe. The trips were organized by state so
often travelers knew each other from their home towns.
FROM THE HOLLY FENELON COLLECTION
– Your family history surrounding World War I is such a sad one. Two brothers
in the war and a third lost from despair. Most families didn't have to face that much sorrow from the war.
checked the WWI membership records of American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.
and did not
find Frances listed as a member of that gold star group. New York was the site of another
gold star group in the 1930s that was prominent in the news of the time, although their
membership never grew to more than a thousand members. (AGSM had approximately 25,000
members at its peak following World War II and continues as an active organization today.) The
New York group was called American Gold Star Mothers of the World War, Inc. (AGSM-WW).
There is a possibility that Frances was a member of that organization since it was pretty much
in her backyard. New York also had a number of smaller gold star groups that came together
during and following WWI. Some mothers also joined the American Legion Gold Star Auxiliary, the
gold star auxiliary of the American War Mothers organization and a similar group attached to
the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I know she was not national president of AGSM, but she might
have served in that capacity for one of the other organizations. Nor would she have been national
president of AGSM-WW since the founder, Mrs. Mathilda Burling, served in that capacity
for the 18+ years that the organization lasted.
was founded in 1928; AGSM-WW was founded in 1930. If Mrs. Walters had an
to meet Mrs. Wilson it was probably during the war since neither President Wilson nor his
wife were much in the public eye following his term in office, due to the serious stroke he had
suffered while in office. Based on that, the meeting would not have been with either of the AGSM groups.
Perhaps she was part of a NY delegation to the White House or was invited for some special event.
As a two-star gold star mother, she would have been accorded special respect by the government and the public.
One thing that many folks do not understand is that the term "gold star mother" is a public
term, rather than a government term. It comes directly from the service flag (or service banner)
that families hung in their windows with blue stars for family members who were serving in the
military. Gold stars were applied over the blue star representing a family member if that individual
gave his life in the line of duty. The family flag that you described with two gold stars and one blue
star would have shown three blue stars for most of the war, but two of the stars would have been
changed to gold to reflect the death of Robert and Valentine. Mrs. Walters was a gold star
mother by virtue of her loss, regardless of whether she joined one gold star mothers
organization, several of them or none at all.
As an aside, service flags were patented in 1917, shortly after the U.S. entered WWI in April.
They were the idea of a retired Army veteran who invented them as a way to honor his family
members who were serving in the military. To use today's term, the service flag idea quickly
went "viral" and they soon appeared in every corner of the U.S. They were commercially manufactured
and available in stores, but many families chose to make their own. They were made of felt, cotton,
satin and just about any other material that was available. Some were made of paper while others
were crocheted or knitted. You could buy a crochet pattern for a service flag and stars for 12 cents
and a self-addressed stamped envelope! In 1918, Liberty magazine printed the image of a service flag
on its cover with additional stars inside the magazine that could be cut out and glued to the paper flag.
Some of the items Harold described from her trip are familiar to me:
A bronze medallion showing a ship, the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel
Tower on the front
was given to each traveler by the U.S. Shipping Lines as a souvenir of their voyage across the
Atlantic. It was designed by Tiffany. It came boxed with a long red, white and blue ribbon, designed
to be worn around the neck. The year printed on the medallion would have been 1930 or 1933 although
voyages were made in 1931 and 1932 as well. They just used the 1930 medallions until they ran out
and then had another group printed with 1933 on them. There is a number stamped on the edge of
the medallion – it indicates the tracking number associated with the medallion. Each medallion came
with a certificate made out with the recipient's name and the medallion number. (You can see the
front and back on the attached Medallion Press photo; the certificate is shown on the GS Pilgrimage
Medallion Certificate – Sarah Russ 1930 photo.)
· Each mother and widow received a photograph of her standing by the headstone of their
son or husband's grave. (See attached Mother Hommon at grave photo for an example.)
Other items that each traveler received included:
· A name badge prepared by the government that they were asked to wear at all times. (example attached)
· An American flag that could be rolled and stored in a tube; the tube became a handle for
the flag when in use. This was provided by the City of New York to each mother
and widow who participated in the Pilgrimages.
· Two special passports issued specifically for the Pilgrimage travelers – one was black and one was red.
The travelers received copious amounts of information from the Quartermaster
prior to beginning their trips. There were itineraries for traveling from their homes to NYC, instructions
for every aspect of the trip, train schedules, information on what could be brought in terms of luggage, etc..
At each phase of the journey, additional materials were handed out concerning schedules, menus,
sightseeing opportunities, the location of their child's grave at the cemeteries, etc.
the best of my knowledge, there is currently no place in which the history
of various gold star mothers
is retained. You might be successful looking in the old archives of the NY Times for information
about her and her losses. It may help to know that she would have been well-known in her community and
state as the gold star mother of two soldiers and many special opportunities were probably made available
to her beyond the Pilgrimage and a visit to the White House. The soldiers who returned from WWI made
it a special mandate to recognize and care for the mothers and families of their comrades who had not returned.
link below takes you to Ancestry.com's data base on the women who were
eligible to participate
in the Pilgrimages – there's not much information provided but it was the official government list at the time:
Gold Star Pilgrimages - Ancestry.Com