On December 16, 1944, the Germans surprised the Allies as they launched their last major offensive in the war, the Battle of Bulge. It was named so because of the westward bulging shape of the battleground on a map. Battles were fought throughout the Ardennes, Belgium and Luxembourg. The battle ended toward the end of January 1945 resulting in 75,000 American soldiers who were wounded, killed, captured or missing in action.
It is protocol to have an American flag on every soldiers casket, and that flag is to remain on the casket until the soldier is to be buried. During the Battle of the Bugle, the supply of casket flags dropped when casualties rose, and a small French government factory was requisitioned to make the needed casket flags.
The management of the factory had heard somewhere of the Gold Star Mothers and were aware of the custom of putting a gold star in the window of a home when a serviceman died in combat and assumed that the stars of the flag were to be gold if the flag was to be used as a casket flag.
Approximately 500 of these gold starred flags were manufactured before the error was corrected. But, because of the great need for casket flags, the gold starred flags were distributed to the Signal Corps to be used. Only a few of the gold star flags are known in Kansas, one is on exhibit at the museum.
Sergeant George Calloway, resident of Pittsburg and employee of Acme Coal Company, entered the army in 1943. Sergeant Calloway was a technician stationed with the 501 st Engineers. He survived D-Day on June 6, 1944, but was killed in Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. A telegram was sent to the home of Mrs. Calloway on East Forest Street notifying her husband had been killed in action on December 18.
The body of Sergeant Calloway arrived in Pittsburg on the Kansas City Southern for burial in Mt. Olive cemetery with full military honors. The flag draped over the casket happened to be one of the gold star flags.
He left behind a widow and young daughter. His widow would later remarry and move to Seattle.
The sisters of Calloway thought it would be more honorable to exhibit the flag rather than store it and donated the 48 gold star flag to the museum.
Did you know, during World War I, American women who had family members serving their country wore a blue star around their left arm? Family members would also display a service flag with a blue star stitched on it in their windows. As this conflict progressed and the number of dead escalated, mothers wanted to express their loss, and their pride they felt for their country. A suggestion of sewing a gold star over the blue star distinguishing those who had a family member who died in the military was made by the Womens Committee of the Council of National Defense. The group presented the idea to President Wilson and the practice was adopted in 1918. Ten years later, the Gold Star Mothers, Inc. was established. The idea of the Gold Star was that the honor and glory accorded the person for his or her supreme sacrifice in offering for their country, the last full measure of devotion and pride of the family in this sacrifice, rather than the sense of personal loss. The color of the stars are also symbolic in that the blue star represents hope and pride and the gold star represents sacrifice to the cause of liberty and freedom.
Remember to thank a military person and their family this holiday season.
— Amanda Minton is the director of the Crawford County Historical Museum, as well as a lecturer of history at Pittsburg State University.