Gold Star Mothers
When the U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917, many Americans immediately signed up to serve. One of them was a young man named George Seibold. Raised in a civic-minded family, George was not content with just any type of service. He wanted to make the biggest impact possible, so he volunteered for one of the most dangerous duties in the military: Piloting an aircraft for the Army Signal Corps.
At the time, air travel was still in its infancy. Flights routinely ended in crashes. It took an enormous amount of skill, and no little amount of courage. (It’s no surprise, then, that the entire aviation wing of the Signal Corps contained only thirteen officers.) Desperate for men with both the ability and nerve, the Army accepted George’s request. So, just one day after marrying his fiancée, George was sent to Canada to begin his pilot training. Before he left, he promised to write to his loved ones frequently, especially his mother, Grace.
But just as George was not content with merely any assignment, Grace was not content to sit home and wait. She decided to volunteer, too. While George learned the fundamentals of flight, Grace took charge on the home front. While George practiced take-offs and landings, navigation, and Morse code, Grace visited injured troops in the hospital. While George studied gunnery and bombardment, surveillance and soloing, Grace founded the American War Mothers organization, which set up hospital visitations, meals, and care packages for wounded soldiers.
Mother and son wrote to each other almost every week. In one of his letters, George told his mother about all the times he narrowly escaped death. There was the instance in training when his aircraft suddenly plunged into an uncontrollable nosedive. (With no other option, George shut off his engine just before he crashed. As a result, the plane did not explode, and George was able to walk away with only minor injuries.) Then, there was the time George made the crossing to England over the frigid Atlantic. German U-Boats were everywhere. Even in a convoy, no ship was safe. In one letter, George described the harrowing moment the ship in front of his was sunk by a torpedo.
The dangers only increased when George finally made his way to France. Imagine Grace’s feelings as she received letter after letter about her son’s close calls: When he crashed near Dunkirk in July 1918, when he was caught in the air during a heavy thunderstorm, and when he was shot down in August and forced to spend five days in the hospital. But, Grace did not allow herself to waste time worrying. Instead, she continued to visit soldiers, raise money, and work every connection she had for the benefit of warriors like her son.
Of course, George detailed plenty of victories, too. In August 1918, he shot down at least six enemy aircraft. One of those was a German pilot named Lothar von Richthofen – the brother of Manfred von Richthofen, the infamous Red Baron. And later that month, he received a citation for distinguished service from the British government.
But then, in September, the letters stopped.
Weeks went by. Concerned, Grace wrote to the War Department for information, but learned that because George’s unit was technically under British command, there was no way for them to know where he was… or if he was alive at all. Once again, though, Grace refused to simply sit and wait. She began searching every hospital ward she could reach to see if her son was among the injured. But as the weeks turned into months, there was still no luck – and still no letters.
Finally, just before the war ended, George’s wife received a package. The label on top read: Effects of deceased officer 1st Lieutenant George Vaughn Seibold.
At first, Grace refused to believe her son could be dead. There was no body. And while another airman believed he had seen George shot down, he had not been able to retrieve the pilot’s identity papers. So, Grace continued her search. She visited more hospitals, met with more wounded soldiers. She also met dozens of other mothers in the same situation, all desperately trying to find news of their own sons. Finally, in 1919, Grace accepted that George was not coming home. Her grief was overwhelming, but she would not allow herself to be overwhelmed by it. For with that acceptance came a realization: “Grief, if self-contained, is self-destructive.”1
Suddenly, Grace had a new mission.
Grace realized that visiting the wounded soldiers in the hospitals had kept her calm. It had given her a sense of purpose. With that purpose came the strength to keep going. To keep searching. To keep serving. Grace also realized there were thousands of other mothers just like her. Mothers who had paid the same price she had; the life of a son for the sake of her country. Mothers who, like Grace, still had something else to give.
So, Grace banded a group of those mothers together. Together they founded a new organization: The Gold Star Mothers. The name came from an already-established tradition where grieving family members would wear a gold star to indicate a loved one had died in battle. These mothers continued caring for wounded soldiers while also supporting the family members of the deceased. During the Great Depression, they raised money to help other mothers travel to Europe to visit their sons’ graves. The organization has continued to serve ever since and still exists to this day.
Every Memorial Day, we commemorate our nation’s greatest heroes. But there is someone else we need to commemorate, too: The families those heroes left behind, the mothers and fathers who gave their sons and daughters to the cause of freedom, the wives and husbands who became widows and widowers, the children who lost parents, and the brothers and sisters who lost siblings. We must remember their sacrifice. Their devotion. There are no words appropriate enough, no gestures adequate enough, but we must do our best anyway. To show, at least, that we remember…and that we will never forget.
This Memorial Day, as we bow our heads in reverence, as we close our eyes in remembrance, let us also remember those mothers. Let us honor their sacrifice and service. And let us also honor all Americans who have earned the unwanted-but-noble right to wear the Gold Star.
From everyone at True Wealth, we wish you a safe and peaceful Memorial Day.
1 “The First Gold Star Mother,” Veterans Breakfast Club, https://veteransbreakfastclub.org/first-gold-star-mother/