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Bill Dienna

The Pilgrimage of the Gold Star Mothers to Europe

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I'm not certain how many have heard of this rather remarkable episode in history.

From 1930 to 1933, the mothers and widows of American men and women who were killed or died in service in World War I were sent by the US Governemnt to visit their graves in Europe. Though it was the depth of the Great Depression, the governemnt spent five million dollars to accomplish this effort.

The women were sent in groups according to the state they were from; unless the woman was black; the black mothers and widows were sent on "colored only" segregated cruises.

Each voyage was staffed by a full retinue of Army officers and enlisted specialists. There were doctors with the groups to attend to many of these now-elderly women. Many of the women had been immigrants, their sons having died for their new country. Since a great number of them still had difficulty with the english language, the military provided interpreters to assist them. The French government paid them honors on each and every trip.

Once in Europe they were taken to the appropriate cemetary to visit the grave of their son or husband. They could then lay a wreath. Many women were escorted to grave markers that said only "Here rests an American soldier known but to God". Thier sons or husbands had never been identified. I have a letter to a Mother from the Red Cross before her pilgrimage. It noted that she would be taken to the grave of an unknown, and the writer stated that "Some have said that these are the most beautiful graves in France".

The ocean liners of the United States Lines were chartered for each voyage. Each woman making the pilgrimage received a medal from the United States Lines. The medal was designed by Tiffany & Company and each was serial numbered on the edge. They received a certificate as well, named to them in caligraphic script, which bore the serial number of their individual medal. The gold and white boxes in which these medals were presented had the medal's serial number stamped on them. They also received a gold identification badge designed by the War Department, and manufactured by Bailey, Banks, and Biddle, that had their name on it. They were instructed to wear these at all times on the trip in order to identify them as Pilgrimage Mothers and Widows. The BB&B box bore the notation "Guest of the United States". In fact, the women received special Pilgrimage passports as well.

I have in my collection a complete set of Tiffany medal in the box with the award document, as well as the War Department badge in its box, all to one woman. They are in storage at the moment, but I thought that I would create this post to see if anyone else has an interest in this subject? At some point I'll get my things out and post them.

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Yes !!! Yes !!!!!!

There is a GMIC project that is pretty long term as all involved have other pots cooking at the moment, it is about Wound badges and KIA items (Death pennies, honour crosses etc. etc....) This is JUST the kind of thing to excite certain people ...

Moi included...

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On the same related topic, then.....

When an American soldier died in World War I, his family received four documents:

1. A memorial accolade over President Wilson's facsimile signature;

2. A memorial accolade over General Pershing's facsimile signature;

3. A large memorial accolade depicting Columbia knighting a kneeling American; and

4. A large memorial document from the French governemnt.

The Pershing document came in two versions: one said "died" and one said "killed", distinguishing between non-combat deaths due to disease, etc., and combat deaths.

The documents provided names, units, date of death, etc., between the four of them.

I have only ever seen one complete group of all four accolades to the same soldier. It was a grouping I purchased from the soldier's sister-in-law ( ! ) several years ago. All of the accolades were still in their original mailing tubes or envelopes. The soldier was a Lieutentant killed in action in 1917.

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An often overlooked source for collectors:

"List of Mothers and Widows of American Soldiers, Sailors and Marines entitled to make a Pilgrimage to the War Cemeteries in Europe". House of Representatives, Washington, DC, 1929

I have used it on several occasions to verify units and death dates for WWI local medals to casualties, as this lists the casualties, with unit and the cemetery they were in. Unfortunately, it only lists fatal casualties, not the wounded.

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Jeff, that book led to me aquiring the KIA document group to which I referred.

One night I was going through the book and looked up the county in which I lived. I saw that a KIA had lived only a few doors away from the home in which I was located. One night I walked down the street and I was amazed to see that the name on the mailbox was still the same name of the officer who had been killed in 1917!

I knocked on the door. An elderly lady answered. The officer had been her brother in law. She was now in the process of moving. In reply to my question about whether she had anything related to the officer, she said that she was sure that she did and would call me. Sure enough, about two months later she called. When I stopped by her house, all of the KIA documents were laid out for me, together with a HUGE portrait photo of the officer. In discussing these things with her she said that she recalled that there were "medals" around, and from her description I was sure that they were the two Pilgrimage items that are described above. Alas, they were never found.

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On the same related topic, then.....

When an American soldier died in World War I, his family received four documents:

1. A memorial accolade over President Wilson's facsimile signature;

2. A memorial accolade over General Pershing's facsimile signature;

3. A large memorial accolade depicting Columbia knighting a kneeling American; and

4. A large memorial document from the French governemnt.

The Pershing document came in two versions: one said "died" and one said "killed", distinguishing between non-combat deaths due to disease, etc., and combat deaths.

The documents provided names, units, date of death, etc., between the four of them.

I have only ever seen one complete group of all four accolades to the same soldier. It was a grouping I purchased from the soldier's sister-in-law ( ! ) several years ago. All of the accolades were still in their original mailing tubes or envelopes. The soldier was a Lieutentant killed in action in 1917.

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Posted (edited)

Gents, 

This thread deserves to be revived for this topic has recently surfaced on another forum and I had no clue as to the US Government sending these women on Pilgrimages to Europe to see the graves of their loved ones.  What got me interested is that I recently bought a small lot of military insignia and other items.  Amongst the items was a, Pilgrimage of Mothers and Widows Identification medal. Though the ribbon and name tag are missing there still is a serial number on the reverse of the medal and I hope to find the database to look up the original recipient.   Thank you so much for your interest and I'm sorry it has been a long time since I have posted in here.  I look forward to seeing old friends and fellow collectors!

Regards, 

Joel 

20180802_172330.jpg

20180802_172354.jpg

Edited by buellmeister

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Chris, 

Indeed it does!  Good to see you my friend and I hope all is well?

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1 minute ago, buellmeister said:

Chris, 

Indeed it does!  Good to see you my friend and I hope all is well?

I am getting old and grey and my back is bending... otherwise all is OK ;-) ...welcome back!

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Several years ago I reviewed all of the records of the Gold Star Pilgrimage that are contained within the United States National Archives.

If there was ever a list of identification badge serial numbers it is not within those materials, except for the badges of a few women who apparently did not receive their badges before they sailed for Europe. The records indicated that they were given new badges (which did not have the engraved name plate at the top) and those few serial numbers were indeed recorded by Army personnel (there were U.S. Army personnel with each Pilgrimage cruise).

Similarly, the cruise medals that were given to the women by the United States Lines were serial numbered on the edge by Tiffany & Company, and the women received a document for the medal that was named to them and which also bore the serial number of the medal that they had been given.

For more information on the Pilgrimage you should read "That Knock at the Door:  The History of the Gold Star Mothers in America" by Holly Fenelon. A superb book and it has some fascinating information about the Pilgrimage.

Additionally, the famed movie director John Ford did a fictional film about the event in 1933 titled "Pilgrimage".

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Bill, 

My apologies on not responding earlier.  I thank you so much for your useful information and will definitely check into obtaining a copy of the book you have mentioned. 

 

Regards,

Joel 

 

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