The last Sunday in September marks Gold Star Mothers and Family’s day- a day for our nation to show our profound gratitude and respect for the families of our fallen. Last year, the Library of Congress invited Gold Star families to join us so that we could celebrate the lives, service and love of their families as we solemnly honored their service through a Gold Star display. As we can’t have guests at the Library just yet due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to bring a few of the Library’s treasures to you via this blog.
The Library of Congress is one of the oldest federal and cultural institutions, and the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled integrated resources to Congress and the American People.
If you are like me, when you hear “library” you automatically think books. The Library does have a magnificent collection of over 39 million books; they are only 23 percent of the Library’s over 170 million items. In addition to the books, we have a wealth of music, performing arts, movies, maps, photographs and, with the Veterans History Project (VHP), memories.
The Veterans History Project is coming up on our 20th anniversary of collecting, preserving and making accessible the firsthand narratives of our nation’s veterans and Gold Star family members from World War I through more recent conflicts to instruct and inspire for generations to come.
In this time we have amassed a collection of over 110,000 stories of service. The collection continues to grow as, thanks to the volunteers both individuals and organizations– across the country get to know the veterans and Gold Star family members in their lives or communities.
VHP always accepted posthumous submissions in the form of original photographs, letters, diaries, unpublished memoirs and other materials, but in November 2016, our legislation was amended with the Gold Star Family Voices Act, allowing us to now ask for survivors to be the mouthpiece for their fallen family member, so that we can share and celebrate the lives of these heroes. Since then, we have added over 120 oral history interviews with family members sharing their remembrances. These oral histories have allowed us all to get to know a variety of individuals through their family’s eyes. Nonagenarian Peggy Powers shared her memories and read letters from her father, World War I U.S. Army Sergeant John D. Kuebelbeck. The final letter the family received was from a nurse expressing her condolences to the family, detailing where Sergeant Kuebelbeck was buried and what flowers were placed beside his grave. Welling up with pride, Peggy showed photos of the St. Joseph Minnesota American Legion that bears her father’s name.
Sally Brauer’s high school sweetheart was an outstanding student and athlete who was last seen departing for a mission to photograph troop movement along the Ho Chi Minh trail in September of 1966. In her interview she spoke of the many questions that are still left unanswered and the formal funeral held for Captain Jimmy Mac Brasher in 2003.
What has been extremely moving is getting to know individuals through different family member’s memories – such as Trisha and Tekearah Spruill. As a mother, Trisha’s interview consisted of accounts of Melvin Spruill’s personality as a young child, following his parent’s footsteps through service to his country, and how she proudly documented his journey. “Teke” spoke about her older brother as her constant protector and best friend. She shared the mischief that she and her brother got in that she had yet to tell her mother about, and the amazing places he to which he traveled with the military – all documented through his social media. They both spoke about the strength they were finding in each other and the variety of ways they have honored Melvin’s legacy.
VHP isn’t the only division of the Library that hosts Gold Star related materials. One of the interesting finds came from our Manuscript division, and consisted of letters written to and from President Woodrow Wilson in May of 1918 by and to Anna Howard Shaw, prominent suffragist and chairperson of the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. In the letters, President Wilson was requesting her advice on a new symbol to designate those whose loved one made the supreme sacrifice in service to their country. Shaw and the Woman’s Committee supported the use of the gold star arm band and President Wilson endorsed the idea, fortifying the gold star as a national symbol of ultimate sacrifice.
In the 1940s, the Library’s Manuscript division worked with Roberta E. Jacobs, the 1943-1948 national custodian of American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. who donated 4,000 items comprising the records of American Gold Star Mothers from 1917-1941. The collection includes correspondence, minute books, a copy of the constitution to which is appended a list of charter members, roll and record books, drafts of legislation, clippings, photographs, membership applications and other records.
Since World War I, various agencies have paid honor to the fallen through documenting their funerals and/or the families’ visits to their final resting place or memorial. General Pershing made it a point to meet with Gold Star mothers from his home state of Missouri, who had just returned from their pilgrimage where they visited their sons’ graves in Europe.
Also within our prints and photographs division are an array of patriotic posters including those from the Think American Institute, which started producing them in 1939 and carried through the Second World War.
When looking for Library collections that pertain to Gold Star families, I was surprised to learn that the Library has over 80 pieces of sheet music submitted for U.S. Copyright related to the subject, including a printed piano- vocal score of World War I sheet music titled A Blue Star Turns Gold.
Finally, I will leave you with an appropriate quote from President John F. Kennedy –
A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by men it honors, the men it remembers.
We look forward to seeing you in person again soon and learning more about who the veteran or Gold Star Family member is in your life. In the meantime, you can visit loc.gov/vets to view collections or find out how you can participate in this historic endeavor.
To our Gold Star families, I want to thank you so much for the opportunity to share with you, and more importantly, the profound example of grace, strength and service you show us every day.