The American flag was precious to my grandmother, Leora Wilson. One of my favorite pictures of her is under a flag at my parents’ farm near Dexter.
Back in 1890 when Leora was born, 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 year her father went bankrupt in Nebraska’s drought, adding another 45 star to the flag.
Leora was nearly 17, living in Audubon County, Iowa, riding a horse to town to take piano lessons, and helping her dad in his fields of popcorn, 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. Leora was 21 then, living at Wichita, Iowa, not yet married.
It was that flag, with 48 stars, for the next 33 years. . . through Leora’s marriage, the Great War, the births of her 10 children, the loss of three as infants, WW II. . . and the loss of three sons during that war.
Making her a Gold Star Mother.
Flag Day was also important to her. She’d display the American flag at her little house in Guthrie Center.
Her family had sacrificed so much for that flag.
In September 1945, when Japan officially surrendered after WWII, Leora’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. Daughters Darlene and Doris, both married, also lived in Iowa. Four small grandchildren kept Clabe and Leora entertained, at least part of the time.
Harry Wold, a pilot friend of Danny’s, who’d been his “stone hut mate” in Italy while in combat, wrote that he still hoped that Danny would be found–maybe in a hospital, but he was skeptical.
On September 26, 1945, a carton of Dan 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. . . .
According to Leora’s notes, 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.
Featured on the front page of the Opinion section in the June 14, 2020 issue of The Des Moines Sunday Register.