By Darrell Todd Maurina
Memorial Day exists primarily to remember deceased veterans, but since the end of World War I, veterans organizations have also sought to provide recognition and support to a special category of people on the “home front.”
That category, “gold star mothers,” consists of mothers whose children have died while serving in the United States military. Representatives of local veterans organizations say they know of only two mothers still living in the area whose children died in combat, and both will receive special honors at the Portales Memorial Day event.
The two are Lila Bryant and Myrtie Smith, whose sons died in Vietnam during 1967. Bryant’s son, Pfc. Jerry Bryant, was the second soldier from Portales to die in the Vietnam War. Smith’s son, Spec. Lloyd Smith, had been in Vietnam less than two months when he was killed in action.
Joe Blair, commander of Portales American Legion Post 31, remembers the common World War II practice of families putting service flags outside their homes or businesses. The flags have one blue star for each child of the family in the American military; a gold star was to be sewn over a blue star if the child died in military service.
“The blue star mothers are those who have sons in the service who are still alive, the gold star mothers are those who have sons who died in the service. It’s that simple,” said Blair. “It’s been a tradition for many, many years to honor mothers who have lost sons in the service.”
Lee Ann Lam, District 8 president for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said that while Clovis veterans organizations have given out many blue star flags to families who are now in the service, they don’t know of any Clovis area mothers who they can honor as part of a gold star ceremony.
Lam said she wishes she could find Clovis women who may need support on Memorial Day.
“I truly believe there are a lot of mothers out there,” Lam said. “We sent thousands of people to Vietnam from this area and you know there have to be these gold star mothers out there. I think they would feel so much better if they knew there was a group that could support them.”
Lam noted that an entire national organization similar to the American Legion and VFW exists to support mothers of those who died in military service: Gold Star Mothers of America. The numbers are too low to support a local chapter, so the VFW and American Legion provide support and recognition.
“You know these mothers are out there and there are a lot of sons who didn’t come back,” said Lam. “I’m sure we have mothers out there who are hurting and would like to know there is an organization out there that could help and support them.”
Blair said Americans need to remember the original purpose of Memorial Day and come out to support all who died in the service of their country.
“People shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that you can’t have a war without veterans and we can’t lose sight of the fact that we should honor our veterans, not only those living but also those who have passed on,” said Blair. “The younger generation will not know anything about this, and the more we can tell the younger generation, the better.”