{ subscribe_url:'//blogs.loc.gov/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/folklife.php' }

The Last Sunday in September

Music Reference Specialist Melissa Wertheimer shares sheet music from the Music Division about Gold Star families with Librarian, Dr. Hayden and Gold Star Mother, Janice Chance. Photo by Shawn Miller. September 2019.

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.

Compilation of various VHP Gold Star Interviews on behalf of their fallen loved one.

VHP always accepted posthumous submissions in the form of original photographs, letters, diaries, unpublished memoirs and other materials, but in November 2016, our legislation was amended with the Gold Star Family Voices Act, allowing us to now ask for survivors to be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.

American Gold Star Mothers Inc. collections on display during the 2019 Gold Star display day.

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.

Washington Photo Co, photographer. (1930) Missouri Gold Star Mothers with General John J. Pershing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington Arlington County Arlington County. Arlington National Cemetery United States Virginia, 1930. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, //www.loc.gov/item/2007661945/.

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. 

Murphy, F. A. & Smith, A. N. (1918) A Blue Star Turns to Gold. [, monographic. publisher not identified,, Place of publication not identified:] [Notated Music] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, //www.loc.gov/item/2007499208/.

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.

Words of Wisdom from the Descendant of a Survivor: ‘Stay Home and Play Your Banjo’

The following is a guest blog post by Hope O’Keeffe, an attorney in the Library’s Office of General Counsel, and an ardent supporter of the Veterans History Project. To read a previous guest post about her family’s history of proud military service, go here. This is my grandfather, John McLaughlin, quarantined during the 1918 flu […]

Stories from the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic from Ethnographic Collections

The Library of Congress collections contain stories of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic as told by ordinary people, documented by folklorists, linguists, and others as they collected personal histories and folklore. Several of these are available online and a selection will be presented here, with links at the end under “Resources” where more can be found. […]

Pandemic: A Woman on Duty

She had already made it five years past the century mark when she finally sat down to share her story for the Veterans History Project (VHP) in 2002. Less than six weeks later, she was gone. Alice Leona Mikel Duffield was a beater of odds. A trailblazer. A go-getter. A caring soul. I’d say that […]

From Behind the Lines to Between the Lines: War Poems and Beyond

The following is a blog post in honor of National Poetry Month. While walking the halls of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, it is not difficult to be inspired by the Lyric Poetry Hall.  I have often wondered what artists and poets have ventured through these halls for the past 122 years. Were […]

Which One Do You Love Most?

It’s Valentine’s Day. It seems everyone has love on their minds today—at least half of us, anyway. Last year, the National Retail Federation predicted that 54.7% of the United States adult population was planning to celebrate the holiday with their significant others, friends or pets to the tune of nearly $20 billion. Yes, billion with […]

“Someday at Christmas, There’ll Be No Wars”: Winter Holidays in the Military

This is a guest post by Sam Meier, a former LC Junior Fellow who is currently working on a variety of reference-related projects for the Veterans History Project (VHP).  December 25, 1917 found William James Bean in quarantine at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York. Bean had been inducted into the Army a little more […]

‘If I Could Only Get My Mind Back To Normal’: PTSD in the Aftermath of WWI

The following is a guest post by Matt McCrady, Digital Conversion Specialist. United States participation in World War I lasted a little over a year, from April 1917 to November 1918, but the cost would be deeply imprinted on the entire history of the 20th century and the lives of the individuals who fought in […]