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Mother’s Day and the Military, A U.S Holiday Rises From the Ashes of War

Mother’s Day. Every year we set aside one special day to celebrate some very special people. Mothers all over the world provide their children with safety, nourishment, warmth, and love. For all they give us, mothers deserve celebration 365 days a year but what is the origin of this widely celebrated second Sunday in May?

According to the History Channel a version of Mother’s Day existed in the days of the ancient Greeks who celebrated Rehea and Cybele, the mother goddesses. This Greek and Roman tradition morphed into the Christian celebration of Mothering Sunday, as the Christians worked hard back then to create substitutes for many pagan holidays. Christian festival conversion gave rise to many other holidays, most notably Christmas and Easter.

Today people often refer to Mother’s Day as a Hallmark holiday, a holiday created so that greeting card companies can boost their revenue. If that is true then it is pretty smart marketing since everyone has a mother at some point. The fact that our modern version of Mother’s Day is very commercialized was considered an abomination to Anna Jarvis, the founder of the modern American mothers holiday.

After Anna’s own mother passed away in the early 1900s, Anna Jarvis lobbied for the establishment of a special day to celebrate all mothers. In 1914 Mother’s Day as we know it was added to the federal calendar, however; the inspiration for Mother’s Day began before the Civil War.

Anna’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, was an activist of sorts who worked hard teaching southern mothers how to care for their children before the Civil War. After the Civil War Ann Jarvis rallied some southern mothers and together they worked to bridge the divide between former Union and Confederate soldiers. In this way American mothers helped heal the nation after the brutal Civil War. This bond between mothers and soldiers continues today.

Military Mothers

Over the past century a tradition of keeping mom close to the heart is most literally seen in the military tradition of tattooing. The mom tattoo is almost synonymous with sailors, soldiers, and other world travelers wishing to pay tribute to the mothers they leave behind. For those who travel to far off and often dangerous lands, mom is more than just a parent. For these noble wanderers mom symbolizes home, warmth, safety, and unconditional love.

America has seen two world wars in Europe, multiple conflicts in Asia and Central America, and the War on Terror in the Middle East since the official establishment of our holiday for Mom. Over this 100 year period millions of mothers waited at home worrying day in and day out that they might get a knock on the door from a person in military dress uniform, a person who is not their son or daughter. Since 1914 over 400,000 mothers in the United States received that unwelcome knock.

Gold Star Mothers

Twenty-five Washington DC area mothers created American Gold Star Mothers, Inc in 1928. The purpose of AGSM is to give support to surviving families of military service members killed in action as well as helping veterans who are physically and mentally wounded in war. Grace Darling Seibold is considered the root inspiration of the AGSM.

In 1917 Grace’s son George Seibold joined the war effort in Europe by volunteering for aviation service in the British Royal Flying Corp. After being trained to fly British planes in Canada George shipped off to England to fly combat missions in the 148th Aero Squadron. Doing her part to support the war effort abroad, Grace volunteered to help out at DC hospitals where returning service men received treatment.

Grace received letters from her son often but then one day the letters stopped coming. Grace continued doing community service in the DC area hospitals hoping that she might find George in one of them. On November 4th, 1918 a family member in Paris confirmed Grace’s worst fear, George died in action over Europe. It was after this experience that Grace began organizing the group that soon became known as the American Gold Star Mothers.

While we take this day to celebrate all the wonderful things mothers do and the sacrifices they make to ensure that their children have everything they need, we must remember the courage of the mother of service members. We must show our support for the Gold Star Mothers who must feel profound loss on a day that is normally a joyous day of celebration.

Epilogue

I dedicate this post to all mothers but especially to my mother Linda Kasper. Throughout my 25 years of service to country as a soldier and civilian, including 13 deployments, my mom has supported me every step of the way. My mom is also the first and most loyal supporter of my humble attempts at writing for an audience. Mom, as you are reading this, I am several thousand miles away and I know you would rather have me back home in the United States. I love you mom and I promise that some day I will stop this wandering and find a normal career. Know that, although I am far away on this Mother’s Day, you are always in my thoughts and close to my heart.


Also published on Medium.

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