Gold Star Mothers

When an active-duty service member dies, his or her mother automatically becomes a Gold Star Mother. It’s a distinction that no mother wants, but it’s one they wear proudly.

The tradition of the Gold Star began during World War II. Even during World War I, a blue star was used on service flags and hung in homes and businesses to represent each living active-duty member. If a son or daughter were killed in combat, the gold star was superimposed on the blue star to honor the person for his ultimate sacrifice to the country. Eventually, the mothers of those fallen service members became known as Gold Star Mothers, and their families Gold Star Families.

Gold Star Mother’s Day is observed in the United States on the last Sunday of September each year.

Leora Wilson, probably late 1940s

I grew up with a Gold Star Grandma, Leora Goff Wilson. She wore that pin often. Three Gold Stars had been pasted over the five blue ones in the service flag that hung in her rural home.

It’s hard to realize the loss of one son, but she lost all three within two years. And was widowed within one more year.

Guthrie Center Gold Star Mothers. Leora Wilson is second from the left.

These mothers lived with their terrible losses the rest of their lives, remembering long-ago details and dates of those heart-rending telegrams.


  1. As you know, my brother Dale is a Gold Star Dad, having lost one of his sons (my nephew) in Iraq. He has the gold star license plate on his car. I hope that history teachers are passing along this knowledge of the meaning, and the sacrifice represented by, those various Gold Star symbols.

    • The one thing I’m surprised at is that those who lost their lives get the same Purple Heart as ones who are slightly wounded. Junior Wilson wasn’t eligible for a Purple Heart because he wasn’t yet in a combat zone.

  2. Thank you for this post Joy! My grandmother had two sons and the older one was killed at St. Lo. My dad served in the Marines in the Pacific and was part of the invasion force queued up to go into Japan (invasion made unnecessary by the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). I served six years in the Navy after Vietnam (the armistice was signed while I was still in boot camp). Yet I knew nothing about these flags presented to mothers with active-duty sons. Thanks for the education!

    • Bless you for your note. It the one killed at St. Lo buried at Normandy, or did she ask for him to be returned home? The service flags weren’t presented to the families. They had to buy them! When Dale Wilson joined, a 3-star flag was hard to find, so she borrowed her mother’s. Three of Leora’s brothers served in WWI (that story will be in the next book about her). You probably know the story of the four navy chaplains who were lost in WWII. I’ve located the grandson of a man who survived the Dorchester disaster. Our American Stories plans to air a story about them in February.

      • Joy, My uncle John (killed at St Lo) has a stone in Portales NM. The next time we are there I will ask my wife to get out her grave dowsing rods to see if he is actually there. She is an active genealogist and an excellent detective concerning these things.

      • Through the decades, I helped my mother and grandmother take flowers to all three brothers’ graves in Perry, Iowa, not realizing until after Grandma Leora died and I began to read all the letters and telegrams that only two of them are buried there. Danny Wilson, who was KIA in Austria, is now buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery at St. Avold, France. Only God knows where Dale Wilson’s remains lie today (including the five others in the B-25 lost off New Guinea). You can get your uncle’s records, or even newspaper clipping will tell whether he was brought home.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.