Flag Day

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.


  1. Precious memories here. I love being reminded of how our folks honored God & country. In retrospect, I believe the further back we go in our family histories the more we see a cherished view of our nation and the flag it represents. So very different now as I see the culture’s patriotic health stats. When I read posts like this, I can see a vast change in just a generation or two. So very sad. – Alan

  2. I saw your comment in the Steve Laube post, so I wanted to read your post about it. It’s a very moving family story about sacrifice, love, and honor. Thank you for sharing it today.

  3. This puts everything–the growth and expansion of the U.S. and the need to defend, even to the death, the values on which it was built–into proper perspective!

  4. I was struck by the photo of the New Testament with the message from the White House. What a valuable treasure. Unfortunately, those days are gone and we won’t see scripture distributed to our military today. Thanks for sharing this. Blessings.

    • I also have one with pilot’s wings on the cover that belonged to Danny’s younger brother, Junior Wilson, who lost his life the day the atomic bomb was dropped, when the engine of his P-40 exploded in formation training in Texas. Someone has marked some of the verses. The other one from the family is from WWI. Three of Grandma Leora’s brother were drafted and served in France. This one became part of Chapter 30 in my newest book, “Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression” when there were rumors about the Wilsons’ father in 1935. It hurt him deeply, and he kept a clipping about gossip in it with a reference to James 3:1-6 in it.

      • Especially since he was a quiet and awkward man and didn’t attend church with his wife and children. The old letters show how esteemed he was by his kids, three of whom lost their lives during WWII. He died shortly afterward of a stroke and a broken heart. Grandma Leora lost three sons and was widowed within three short years, but she was a delight as a grandmother. That’s why I must write about her!

      • Their memories live on, even on the new Dallas County Freedom Rock at Minburn, Iowa. People are so surprised because no one talked about it after the war. It was so hard for my mother, their older sister, to talk about it. We decorated “three graves” for decades without knowing that only one of the brothers is buried there. One is buried in an American cemetery in France. Only God knows where the remains of the other (and his B-25 crew) lie today.

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