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History Revisited: Gold Star mother receives federal recognition

Sept. 26 will mark the 85th anniversary of Gold Star Mother’s Day, a day when our country recognizes and honors the mothers who have lost a son or daughter while serving in the line of duty in support of military activities.

Although not a state or national holiday, it is certainly a significant day of remembrance that should be respected by all.

By way of explanation, the history of Gold Star Mothers can be traced back to the first World War, when small white banners, displaying a blue star and surrounded by a blue border, officially referred to as a “Service Flag,” were displayed in the windows of houses to represent the number of family members serving in the war. The star represented “hope and pride.”

As the number of casualties during World War I mounted, a practice began wherein, if a family member was killed in the line of duty in the Armed Forces, mothers of the deceased would wear a black band with a gold star on their left arm.

Subsequently, some mothers began covering the blue star on their Service Flags with gold stars. President Woodrow Wilson referred to the mothers of those who lost their lives in the war as “Gold Star Mothers.”

In June 1928,25 (Gold Star) mother organizers went to Washington where they received a congressional charter officially recognizing the group as the “American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.”

Although no exact figures are available, it is feasible to say that today there are thousands of Gold Star Mothers of U.S. servicemen and women who lost their lives in the service to their country.

Back in November of last year, the Times published a “History Revisited” article titled “A tribute to veterans at the Groton Public Library,” providing a description of a special display at the library recognizing 13 local young servicemen who had lost their lives during the Vietnam War. The idea of the display was conceived by Joan Cohn of Old Mystic, a Gold Star Mother who lost her stepson, Sgt. William P. Cohn Jr., when he was killed in action in Vietnam on Oct. 21, 1968.

Mrs. Cohn, who volunteers at the Groton Public Library, with the assistance of Michael Spellmon, assistant director at the library, organized the display to coincide with the National Vietnam Veterans Day on March 29 and the 13-year commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

In addition to William P. Cohn Jr., the display recognized the following men from Groton who lost their lives in Vietnam:

1. Peter Dean Hesford, 25, Major — U.S. Air Force, Missing in Action (presumptive finding of death) on March 21, 1968.

2. Richard Gill Desillier, 22, Specialist Four — U.S. Army, Killed in Action on May 13, 1970.

3. Howard Clinton Robinson, 20, Private First Class — U.S. Army, Killed in Action on Oct. 27, 1966.

4. Loring McKenzie Bailey, 24, Specialist Four — U.S. Army, Killed in Action on March 15, 1970.

5. Michael John Ryan, 21, Specialist 5 – U.S. Army, Missing in Action (declared Dead While Missing), January 15, 1968.

6. Karl Joseph Lavallee, 20, Private First Class — U.S. Army, Killed in Action on May 21, 1971.

7. Charles Edwin Bray Jr., 22, Specialist Five — U.S. Army, Non-Hostile Death (vehicle accident) on July 9, 1970.

8. Joseph Nicholas Davi, 20, Private First Class — U.S. Army, Killed in Action on Sept. 22, 1966.

9. Johnny Lee Blount Jr., 21, Corporal — U.S. Marine Corps, Killed in Action on July 4, 1966

10. Donald Leon Braman, 21, Specialist Four — U.S. Army, Killed in Action on Jan. 2, 1963.

11. Drew Fiedler, 23, Sergeant — U.S. Army, Killed in Action on Oct. 12, 1968.

12. Richard Frederick Links, 21, Private First Class — U.S. Marine Corps, Killed in Action on March 31, 1968.

The servicemen represented in the library display are just a small number of the total of almost 58,200 men and women who were killed in Vietnam.

The library display was considered as a “special project” for Groton’s Anna Warner Bailey (AWB) Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, of which Mrs. Cohn has been a member since 2011. Members of the Groton AWB chapter subsequently submitted an application to the Connecticut (DAR) State Division’s Commemorative Events Committee to recognize Mrs. Cohn for her efforts in organizing the Vietnam Veteran tribute display.

In April of this year, the State Division of the DAR selected Mrs. Cohn to receive the 2020 Outstanding State Member award in recognition of the Vietnam Veterans display.

Information concerning the display was also forwarded for recognition by the Vietnam War Commemoration Committee of the United States Department of Defense.

In June of this year Mrs. Cohn received a personal handwritten note from Major General Peter M. Aylward, U.S. Army (Retired), the Director of the United States of American Vietnam War Commemoration in Washington, D.C., congratulating her on being named the DAR State Volunteer of the Year and also thanking her for helping to “thank our nation’s blood and treasure from a generation ago.”

Accompanying the note was an official “Certificate of Appreciation” from the Department of Defense Vietnam War Commemoration Committee officially thanking Joan Cohn for her “personal efforts and tireless devotion in thanking and honoring our Nation’s Vietnam veterans and their families.”

The certificate further stated: “Your passion, energy and dedication are evident in the work you have done on behalf of the Nation and your state to recognize these patriots’ service and sacrifice.” The certificate was signed by Major General Aylward.

Joan Cohn certainly deserves the recognition she has received on the state and federal levels for organizing the Vietnam Veterans tribute display at the Groton Public Library. Our community also owes Joan a great deal of recognition for her tireless efforts, through organizing the display, in keeping alive the memory of her stepson, and other local servicemen who lost their lives in Vietnam.

SPECIAL NOTE: As a result of the research conducted compiling the articles relating to Mrs. Cohn’s Vietnam Veteran tribute display, it was discovered that the names of William P. Cohn Jr. and possibly one other Vietnam Veteran, mentioned in the articles, are not engraved on the “Twentieth Century” memorial panel at Groton Veterans and War Memorial Park. Appropriate measures have been initiated to correct these omissions.

Jim Streeter is Groton Town historian.



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