Since 1916 we Americans have officially celebrated the Stars and Stripes each June 14.
The American flag was precious to my grandmother. One of my favorite pictures of her is under a flag at my parents’ farm near Dexter.
Back in 1890 when Leora Goff was born in Guthrie County, Iowa, the new states of Idaho and Wyoming had just been added to the Union, making 44 stars in the flag. Utah became a State when she was 5, the same year her father went bankrupt in Nebraska’s drought, adding the 45th star.
Leora was nearly 17, living in rural Audubon County, riding a horse into Audubon to take piano lessons, and helping her dad with his popcorn crop, when Oklahoma was admitted to the Union–46 stars.
The 48-star flag came about when New Mexico and Arizona became states right before the Titanic sank in 1912. Leora was 21 then, living at Wichita, Iowa, not yet married.
It was that familiar 48-star flag for the next 33 years–through Leora’s marriage to Clabe Wilson, the Great War, the births of their 10 children, the loss of three as infants, and through WW II, when they lost three sons.
Flag Day was so important to Leora Wilson. She’d display the American flag outside her little house in Guthrie Center, where she lived out her last decades.
Her family had sacrificed so much for that flag.
In September 1945, when Japan officially surrendered at the end of WWII, Wilson’s son Danny was still Missing in Action in Austria, although the war in Europe had ended months before. In fact two sons were still Missing in Action–Dale and Danny.
Their youngest brother, Junior, was killed in training at the end of the war. An American flag had been presented to Clabe and Leora by Junior’s Army Air Force friend, Ralph Woods, at the funeral.
War was over. The Wilsons’ two surviving sons had served in the Navy. Delbert and his family moved home to be with his folks. Donald stayed in the Navy.
On September 26, 1945, a carton of Danny Wilson’s things arrived at the Wilson acreage south of Perry–sent from the Army Effects Bureau of the Kansas City Quartermaster Depot.
Clabe signed for the carton. I suppose they opened it, but did they sort through their son’s eighteen pairs of socks, five cotton undershirts, three khaki trousers, and other clothing? If they had, they would have found Danny’s wrist watch, souvenirs of his R and R to Rome over Christmas, a fountain pen, other items including a small New Testament.
Yes, the war was over, but life just kept on and on, with daily chores to keep them busy. According to Leora’s diary, she churned butter every week. Two cows had calves. Clabe helped a neighbor with field work.
At some point, they would have thumbed through the Danny’s small New Testament.
They would have found the page with the American flag pictured in color.
Under that flag is an arrow, drawn in ink, and the words in his bold printing, “I give everything for the country it stands for. D. S. Wilson.”
Daniel Sheridan Wilson. . . . Danny.
If this brings tears to my eyes, these many decades later, how did my grandparents deal with it then?
No wonder the American flag was precious to my grandmother.
In the picture of Grandma under the flag at my parents’ place, she’s wearing a watch with a small silver bell fastened to it.
The Capri bell arrived in the same box as Danny’s small Bible. . . . with his personal pledge to the American flag.
A good reminder of why we celebrate Flag Day every June 14.
Published in The Des Moines Sunday Register, June 14, 2020.
This story was first featured on Our American Stories on October 5, 2020.
Leora Wilson’s World War II story is told in Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II by Joy Neal Kidney with Robin Grunder.