By Jessica Ryan
The beige, stone rowhome in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood is a special place to a unique organization. It is a group with certain eligibility requirements – eligibility that comes from tragic circumstances.
A red-and-white banner with a gold star in the center hangs on the door of the rowhome and an iron gold star is in the home’s front garden. To the right of the front door, a plaque reads, “American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.”
This home belongs to a nonprofit organization for surviving mothers of fallen service members. On a street filled with embassies and multimillion dollar homes, it may seem peculiar for a nonprofit to have a presence in such a distinguished neighborhood.
Candy Martin, the organization’s national president, and her husband, Ed, are staying at the residence for a few days. It is not, however, a vacation in the nation’s capital for the Martins, who live in San Antonio. Instead of viewing historical sites, they are preoccupied with meeting contractors for home renovation projects.
Candy Martin took a break from her busy schedule to give a tour of the home. She wanted to share its history because she knows it is unique.
“It is a headquarters first and a home second,” she said.
In order to understand the home, one must understand the origins of American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. As documented in Holly S. Fenelon’s book, “American Gold Star Mothers Inc.: 1928-2010 A History,” the organization’s history traces back to World War I. At the time, Americans hung red-and-white banners with blue stars on homes, businesses, schools and churches. Blue stars, which represented military personnel serving in the armed forces, were replaced with gold ones when a service member died during the war.
Grace Darling Seibold was a mother of a service member represented by one of those gold stars. Seibold’s son, aviator and 1st Lieutenant George Vaughn Seibold, was killed in action in 1918. After her son’s death, Seibold was inspired to work in hospitals and comfort other mothers as they coped with loss. She organized a group with the purpose of caring for hospitalized veterans and helping other surviving mothers. By 1928, 25 mothers met in the Washington to establish a national organization called American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. A year later, the organization was incorporated under the laws of the District.
In the following decades, Gold Star mothers gained national recognition. In 1936, Congress designated the last Sunday of September as Gold Star Mother’s Day. The organization grew after it opened membership to surviving mothers of fallen service members in World War II and the Korean War. By the early 1950s, the organization, which was located in the Hamilton Hotel in Washington, outgrew its space. The leaders realized the organization needed a headquarters building.
In 1954, the then-national president Elise Nielson found a 3,000-square-foot rowhome built in 1904 near Dupont Circle. The nearby Episcopal Church owned the home, and it wanted $25,000 for the property. American Gold Star Mothers made an offer and 30 days later, the home officially become the organization’s headquarters.
It still serves as the headquarters for over 1,800 organization members, said Candy Martin. As the organization’s highest-ranking member, she was excited to provide a tour of the unique headquarters. She began the tour in the living room, where George Seibold’s framed uniform is on display. She then walked through the first floor, explaining the stories behind framed photos and documents on the walls.
The nonprofit’s headquarters functions as both an office and a home. The upstairs rooms have twin-sized beds where organization members can sleep during their stay. The rooms resemble dormitories where multiple beds fit in one room. Martin stated that up to 12 mothers stay at a time. Board members stay for free and other members can stay for a small fee.
She showed off the boardroom where organization meetings take place and then pointed to a framed photo of 12 service members. Each one is a fallen son or daughter of the organization’s current board members. First Lieutenant Tom Martin, Candy’s son, is one of the framed faces. She paused to look at the photo of her son, who was killed in action in October 2007, and then continued the tour.
The final stop was the bottom floor, where the kitchen is located. Martin said the area serves as both a social and business hub. “We have meals together. We take turns cooking. This is our home away from home,” she said.
The Martins return to headquarters during national observances like Gold Star Mother’s Day, Veterans Day and Memorial Day. During these trips, Candy and other Gold Star moms volunteer at places like the Veterans Affairs hospitals and Armed Forces Retirement Home. Service is key to the organization and its leaders.
“We are a service organization,” she said. “The idea is that we serve and we continue our fallen children’s service, because they can’t. We find that grief support from service. We turn that sorrow into service.”
Editor’s Note: For more information about Army Survivor Outreach Services, visit www.sos.army.mil. To learn more about the symbols of honor worn by surviving family members, visit www.symbolsofhonor.org.
–Jessica Ryan is a public affairs specialist at U.S. Army Installation Management Command.
You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.
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