Clutching a clump of Navy tags in one hand and a baking powder can with a slitted lid in the other, I was ready for business.
One of several preteen girls stationed strategically on the Main Street of our little Minnesota town, we were seeking donations for the annual Navy Mothers fund drive. (The artful little paper tags were not unlike the VFW’s red paper fundraising poppies.)
I was never quite sure what the nickels and dimes we collected were used for back then. This was 1948. World War II had ended and my sailor brother had survived and was safely at home in California.
But the organization, the Navy Mothers Clubs of America, continued on — and still does to this day.
Navy Day fell on Oct. 27.
Though now overshadowed somewhat by the broader Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May), Oct. 27 was chosen because it’s the birthday of Theodore Roosevelt, who gave so much of his life to the formation of sound naval policy.
This date was fortuitous for the Navy mothers in that it fell during the local pheasant hunting season, and our town in southwestern Minnesota was in the heart of pheasant country. The sport drew many city folk and other out-of-towners to our streets; hence, a bigger take for the club.
My mother never missed a monthly Navy Mothers meeting. She even sewed a navy blue outfit for herself, which was identical to my brother’s uniform. She wore it to march in the annual Memorial Day parade. And, if memory serves, she and the other marching Navy mothers may even have performed a short drill, of sorts, while carrying the colors of Club and Country.
I, too, had marching duty in the parade. But it was nothing dramatic; rather, I carried a small American flag, and was dressed in the special outfit my mother made for me. It was identical to hers, but white instead of blue, and I wore it with my brother’s white sailor cap. (Yes, I looked very cute!)
Patriotism always ran high in my family. My dad served in World War I. He experienced the awful trenches, the barbarism of the foxholes and the mustard gas during his sojourn in France during the Battle of the Argonne Forest.
My sailor brother was a machinist mate on a light cruiser that participated in several notable World War II battles, including that of the Mariana Islands and the famed “Turkey Shoot” of the Philippine Sea.
A brother-in-law saw action as a marine in Korea. His two sons each endured many horrors, also as frontline marines, during Vietnam. One came home greatly honored for bravery.
An older sister’s husband broke the mold badly, marrying a Mennonite farmer who was a conscientious objector, during World War II. A family drama unfolded over that marriage.
And then — lo and be darned — I went on to wed a man 14 years my senior who had made the Normandy Beach landing.
My husband Earl commanded troops for the 1303rd Engineer General Service Regiment, building bridges across France and Germany, following Patton’s left flank.
And so I look back rather fondly on the Navy Mothers Club, those Navy Day fund drives and the Memorial Day parades of my youth.
Hearing The Star-Spangled Banner always brings a tear to my eye.
I come by it honestly.
Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to [email protected].