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Book Review: The Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages of the 1930s

Author: John W. Graham

Pages: 206

Genre: Non Fiction

Book Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Graham quotes, "The Great War (World War 1) pilgrimage movement was both patriotic and profound. Yet the movement was also very personal. A mother mourned her son at his graveside half a world away from home."

"What makes someone a Gold Star Mother?" In answering, it's respectful to understand they are the mother of a member who served and died in the armed forces. Today it is now called the America's Gold Star Families where they focus on honoring families of those who made their ultimate sacrifice during their time in service to our country.


Edwards, who co-produced the award-winning PBS documentary on the Gold Star Mothers, presented detailed information available about the families and the soldiers who served and are permanently buried in Europe. You're probably familiar with the name "Flanders Fields" and the red poppy flowers. Flanders Fields cemetery holds 368 American soldiers underneath the Belgium soil. The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, just 150 miles from Paris, holds over the largest number of over 14,200 American soldiers. These are two of the eight American Battle Monument cemeteries in Europe, in total holding 30,000 permanent burials of World War One American soldiers. These burials were accepted by the families of the solider who either requested to remain buried in Europe so they may remain with the boys they fought side by side with. As Theodore Roosevelt said when his son Quentin Roosevelt was killed and buried in Europe, "let the young oak lie where it fell." With these graves now permanently in Europe, several families like the Roosevelts and the Kilmers traveled overseas in their private pilgrimages, hoping for a sense of closure. But what about the other families with loved ones buried in Europe who couldn't afford to go overseas?

"President Calvin Coolidge signed the pilgrimage bill into law in March 1929, shortly before his term of office ended "

The Pilgrimage

You read correctly. It took ten years for Congress to pass a bill for the mothers to see the graveside of their sons. In total, 6,654 Gold Star mothers and widows made the voyage to see where their brave boys laid sleeping forever beneath the European soil. There's a wealth of information I'd love to talk about regarding the pilgrimage. Like I stated, Edwards gathered what was available in forming this book. The legislative struggles with the bill, role of Quartermaster Corps, the segregation controversy, and personal looks inside the families who went overseas to see where the men were buried. I find it astonishing the pilgrimage lasted for four years since it was all funded by the government during The Great Depression. Edwards also discusses more on this controversy.


This for me was a personal read. During the spring of 2022, we visited the National World War One Museum located in Kansas City. It was there I discovered this book. My 2nd great-uncle was killed during the Battle of Meuse-Argonne in October 1918, just weeks before the war ended on November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, or as we know, Veteran's Day. His body was exhumed and buried October 1921, three years after the war ended. This book explained why and more. I absorbed more than I expected from this book. If you're curious about World War One and what to understand basically why the United States got involved, I highly suggest visiting the National World War One Museum & Memorial in Kansas City. With over 300,000 pieces of information, volunteered staff are more than welcomed to share this moment in history so we don't forget those who gave their all.

This book was purchased at the National World War One Museum & Memorial. To learn more visit


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Book Rating

Excellent/ Highly Recommend
Great/ Recommended
Good Story
Okay / Struggle to Finish
Meh / Did Not Finish
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