During World War II, the mothers of men who were killed in combat received Gold Stars as a small token of our nation's appreciation of their loss.

The impetus for such an action stems from this letter written by Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a Boston widow who lost her sons during the Civil War:

"I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming, but I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic that they died to save.

"I pray that the Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."

Abraham Lincoln

When I was a small boy, not so very long after the war, house upon house in my neighborhood displayed Gold Stars in their windows. I always wondered why they were there, but the one time I asked my mother, who had lived on the street all her life, she held me tight and started to cry.

I was treated with great kindness, growing up, by the quiet women who tended those stars, dusting them, keeping them turned proudly towards the sun.

It's taken me a very long time to realize why.