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Interview with Ruth Wade

Friday, April 11, 2003 at 3:41 PM

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Web Exclusive - Wade was a part-time case worker for the Canton American Red Cross Chapter at the time the Blue Star Mothers feature aired. The following interview was conducted by ideastream's Karen Schaefer.

I understand that you participated in the Blue Star banner program.

Ruth Wade: You mean back in the World War II, yea. I was just a little girl in WWII, my dad served in WWI. But I remember back in WWII there was the Blue Star Mothers Organization and they had like a girls unit. If I remember correctly, I think it was called the Service Star Girls, or Service Star League or something like that. They held their meeting bi-weekly in a home that had been turned into offices on West Hosk.

What they did, it was like a support group in one respect because all of these ladies that were there were ladies that had at least 1 son, some had 2-3, others were the Silver Star Mothers. Those were the ladies that their sons or daughters had been wounded or injured in some way shape or form. Then there were the Gold Star Mothers and those were the ladies that had lost a child.

They participated in the parades. They did fund raisers and they sold, I think I hate to say this cause I don’t even remember anymore, little violets or something like the poppies. The VFW and the Legion had the Buddy Poppy Program where they sold those once a year and that money was taken in and I think that program still goes on today, the Poppy Sale. That goes primarily to help the fellas that are in the VA hospitals and help fund those programs.

But the Blue Star League, we wore our little white blouses and our blue skirts and a little blue cape, and we marched in the parades and things like that. Basically our job to do was to help the mothers and anything we could do. We would help put boxes together to ship overseas, pretty much the same as mothers are doing today only it was different items. We didn’t have e-mail and we didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have anything. Letters then were really important to the fellas too and we helped send out the mail and things like that, to assist the mothers in any way shape or form that we could.

Then it went on again through the Korean War and went through the fellas in Vietnam also. Then it was revived again for Iraq.

We’ve been working, the Blue Star that we’re doing now, we were in contact with the Blue Star Mothers whose organization has their national office in Washington area. We were in touch with them to use the star because they hold the copyright or franchise for that. So they were gracious enough to say yes you can make x numbers of them. Our request exceeded about 6 to 1 what we have and what we received request for. So we are referring them to the website for Blue Star Mothers and we’re also referring them to their local American Legion posts too. Hopefully we’ll start seeing them in car windows and especially the homes things like that.

It’s good for the mothers too, because that it gives them a chance to show their pride in their sons and how honored they are to have these boys and girls now in the service. The older you get, the younger they look. I see some of these people on the news clips on CNN and things like that and the ones that come into the offices here and they seem so young, but they’re not. Their the best we have to offer and that is what these ladies are saying when they put that star in the window. So it’s good for them. I think it gives them so way that they can participate. I think everybody feels that way whether you have someone that you can put that star in the window or not, because not all the requests that are coming in are from mothers.

There’s the Blue Star Dads too and the Blue Star Aunts and of course, the Blue Star Grandmas - they’re the best, brothers & sisters and wives, a lot of people. It’s just one way we can show our pride and support to these people. They see the news, they see the newspapers - they may get them 4 or 5 weeks later or something like that. But they see what’s going on back here and they see the things that are maybe anti-war. That’s fine if people are anti-war, no one wants this war, but we’ve got to show our support for the troops because they’re over there. I think it does them good to see that there’s this kind of thing, there’s yellow ribbons and other things done. It’s good.

I know my grandmother had 2 Blue Stars, her husband was gone for most of the war and he had also served in WWI, and I don’t think she saw him for 4 years. Then her oldest son, my father, was called up in 1944, June 1944, he was sent overseas to be part of the Bombardiers Squadron and he participated in daylight bombing raids over Germany. He hadn’t seen his father in 3 years either, but they hooked up in London one day. The two of them used to tell me stories. I always thought, I’d look at the pictures of my father who is 6’4” and weighed about 135 lbs. Soaking wet and think this was a boy. He was 21 years old on his first mission and yet he was older than a lot of the soldiers in 1944. I think about how many boys were in that war and how important that must have been to people. There were Blue Stars in a lot of windows.

Ruth Wade: There were Blue Stars all over the place. At that time I lived in Warren, and my dad he had been in WWI and he was to old for WWII so he became our local Air Raid warden. I can remember going around with him when he did his rounds of the neighborhood and talked to the people and so there was out of every 10 houses, 8 of them had the Star at the window. It was just amazing that there were so many families then that were involved and there are so many families now too.

But then, you had the draft and now it’s an all volunteer military. We depend more and more on our Reserves and on our National Guard then we had to at that time. It’s a little different framework. I remember them all the time, they were everywhere. People had their flags out, but I think I see more flags now than what you saw then. Thank goodness for commercialization that there are flags everyplace on everything now. I think that’s great; I think that’s wonderful. You didn’t see as many flags then as you do now but you did see the Stars. Not only did the Blue Star mothers have them, but there were the other lodges like the American Legion and the VFW and things like that, that were also involved and they had all sorts of things going on. There were war bond drives.

I remember I took tap dancing lessons one time and we tap danced at this thing and they had this bomb there, and there was no way this was a live activated bomb, but they put on their little show and you paid your money, I think it was only a quarter or something like that, an you got to sign this bomb. Well, I put my quarter in there and I was terrified that when I went up there to sign my name that was the time that bomb was going to go off. It was things like that. There were canteens open and it was just a different time than what we have now.

Now we have the e-mail and where they can cell phone and you can turn on CNN and practically see what’s going on. The calls that we’re getting now, the people seem to be so anxious. I don’t know if it’s because this is really the first time we’ve had the war in our living rooms, even at the Gulf War they were not out there as much and the technology and things, lord knows what it’s going to be like 10 years from now.

It’s just a different thing because you would sit at home just absolutely glued to that radio for my gosh what’s going to happen next. Then you’d get maybe 15 minutes of news or something like that. Then that was it and it’s all you had to go by. That’s why things like the war bond drives and the Blue Star programs and things like that were so important to the people. It was something they could do and they didn’t have all the media that we do now to know what was going on. They had no clue. Like you said with your father, it was 4 years or 3 years till they would hear or see or even get a chance to talk to any of their loved ones and not know whether they were okay or not. It’s a whole different ballgame. It was more patriotic then and I think that’s a crying shame. That’s just my opinion.

Well, it certainly involved a lot more people.

Ruth Wade: It certainly did. It was the scope of it too. It was a world war and we were all over Europe, it wasn’t one localized country. We were all over the Pacific. We were in the Far East. We were in the Middle East. We were in every island that was out there and you didn’t know whether it was going to come over here either and we don’t know whether it’s going to come over here now. I think you felt more secure than you do now because the technology is so different. I think that has a lot to do with the people. You always come back to the same basic thing; it’s something the people can do because they want to help. They want these fellas to know, you may be over there with only other military people but you’re not alone, we’re here with you.

Yes, a home front. I’ve tried to get my mother to talk about this; she graduated from High School in 1945. She was 16. She was fairly young in the war years, but cognoscente that it was going on. It affected everybody. A lot of the kids she went to school with were Japanese-American and other folks from Hawaii which were not, unlike in California, sequestered. But, there was a special feeling about them. Almost a protective feeling about them and then of course, a lot of her high school male classmates immediately went into the military. It sounds as though a lot of people, especially those who have families affected by the war directly - people in the military, which was a lot of families, did want to do something.

Ruth Wade: You did want to do something and that’s way I think the lodges and the clubs, like the Blue Star Mothers and the Auxiliaries at the VFW and the American Legion, Army-Navy Union and other organizations like that were so important. This was some place where people could come together, where they could maybe get a little information because maybe these people had more connections and they could get more information and find out what’s going on in France or what’s happening in Germany or Italy or North Africa or whatever. It was a chance to bond with people, of course we didn’t use the word bonding back then, but it was a chance to get together with people in the same circumstances that you were in. It was a chance to kind of let off steam. It was a chance to play some cards or sing, sing-a-longs back then were terrific. Somebody would play the piano and you’d be singing all these old songs. It was just a sense of camaraderie.

What were the favorite sing-a-long songs back then?

Ruth Wade: Oh my gosh, Over There and anything George M. Cohen probably. A lot of songs like the big band songs, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, and things like that. Patriotic songs of course, I remember Kate Smith because Kate Smith was the woman of the hour. Because she sang God Bless America and America the Beautiful and all the other songs that she sang, but primarily I remember her singing God Bless America. People would put together boxes and they would send, back then it was entirely different things that they would send. They had to send a lot of utilitarian things that the guys would need. I remember sending socks and things of that nature that the fellas needed, gloves and things like that, cigarettes. They would send more basic things.

Now the fellas, they’re asking for baby wipes and eye drops, that’s the two big things that the people seem to be getting now because of the sand. One thing I could remember from Desert Storm that they wanted were flea collars because of the sand fleas, now I haven’t seen that come up yet, so maybe they found out it didn’t work I don’t know. I guess during Desert Storm they wrapped them around their ankles and their wrists.

It’s things like that; it’s different yet it’s the same. It’s the same feelings, the same fears, the same desires in wanting to know are they all right, what can I do. This feeling of dread each time you hear something come over the TV and they say it’s this unit or that unit, you hear your son’s unit and you think, oh my gosh he’s in the 101st or he’s in the Big Red One or he’s an engineer or something like that. You think, could it be him?

Yet there’s thousands of mothers across the country at the same time thinking is it us. There’s nothing, I don’t think, that could delay that fear. It’s going to be there and these families they cope with it beautifully. We get a lot of calls and that seems to be the question. Do you know where such and such a unit is or where somebody is deployed and we don’t have that information? We can help them by getting messages out to them, but we don’t have that information. That’s just something that they have to fear and it’s tough.

I know during WWII when the only kind of direct correspondence you could get was a letter or telegram. Telegrams were rather dreaded. Telegrams could carry bad news, missing in action, injured or killed. What happened when a Blue Star turned to Gold?

Ruth Wade: Well, I was never; I don’t think I was ever around a mother when she actually got that news. But I would remember the ladies coming in and at that time, I can’t remember but I think they assembled the stars and things there. I think they actually put them together there. It seems to me I remember threading something and I think it was probably putting them together. Then you got another star to sew on there and it was a silver one or it was a gold one. Thank goodness we didn’t see as many of those as we did the blue ones. It was just a different attitude. The Blue Stars were more pride. When the silver and gold stars came out it was more anguish with the mothers. The sadness and the finality of “Well he’s not coming home.” That was different because those were given out under those circumstances. It was hard. I now I keep saying it was hard, but it is hard and there’s no other way to say it. It’s very difficult.

I remember back to my own family’s stories about my father was the oldest of 3 children, his younger brother was 11 or 12 and his sister was 14 or 15. They really missed their brother. They really missed seeing him. My uncle because he didn’t get to fight in WWII, but his big brother did, went into the military himself and fought 4 tours of duty in Vietnam and then continued in the military for years after and retired a few years ago. It affected his life, that separation; obviously it affected the women too. But it affected the youngest boy in the family in a dramatic way.

Ruth Wade: Because he wanted to be like the other ones. It’s a sense of tradition I think. Military wives are amazing people. When these ladies come in for anything, whatever the reason they come in, they are very well organized. They come in with their little notebooks and they have everything written down. I think I should be so organized. I’ve never been that organized and they say well, we have to be because we move a lot or if you want to live on base or do you want regular housing or are you going to stay here at home. If you have children you have to have all these records together and ready to go in case he’s deployed. They’re very resourceful. There again they look so young and I remember I was young to when my kids were little. They’ve got so much responsibility on their shoulders and they’ve got support from parents and family but yet it all comes down to that one gal. When push comes to shove, the responsibility is in her lap, or his lap as the case may be. It’s a lot, there’s a lot of Mr. Moms out there right now too. It takes a special person to be able to do that and I think it helps build character and a sense of responsibility that you don’t necessarily see in other young people. I’m very impressed by them when they come in. They’re good kids.

think I agree with you. I’ve talked with a number of troops that have mobilized since September 11th, been to ceremonies where the families are saying good-byes, they’re hanging out. Invariably the families are very supportive of their solider whether it’s a woman or a man. They’re supportive in terms of at that moment when they’d love to be sobbing they’re not. They’re dry eyed, they’re clear eyed, they’re smiling, they’re doing everything they can to support them.

Ruth Wade: That’s it, they’re there to support them (solider) and back them up. They’ve got enough to be concerned about, don’t worry about us (family) we’re going to be fine. Most of them are, most of them are fine. A lot of things haven’t changed, again it’s different but yet it’s the same. I’m sure it was the same thing in WWI and probably the Civil War and the Spanish-American War when the fellas left. I thought the other day, I was reading a book by John Jakes, and I just love his books. It was about the Secret Service during the Civil War and how that started. It was stating how the families would pack a picnic lunch in the carriages and ride out over the hilltops overlooking Antietam or Bull Run or something like that. I though oh my golly, it’s the same thing like turning on CNN. It hasn’t changed; it’s just a different medium.

One thing that’s different that strikes me is that while there may have been use of some Blue Stars during the Persian Gulf War. It was a surprise to some people to know that this program still exists. Some people knew it was around during the Vietnam War, but most people remember it from WWII when it was more ubiquitous. There’s this resurgence now. Does it have something to do with the way we still feel about the way treated our soldiers coming back from Vietnam?

Ruth Wade: It may be. I think maybe it could be because of the Reservists. The Reservists are fellas that are a little older. They’re a little older than the young recruits that are going in. They’re a little more seasoned. Maybe to there are so many, we’re living longer now, and we have so many grandmas and grandpas that are my age now that remember WWII and you think geez, I wish there was something we could do and you remember back.

I know a couple of the woman who have called in have referred back to the movie “Saving Private Ryan” where the Star was in the window. That is in people’s mind and they question what was that hanging in the window and then grandma would say oh that’s the Blue Star program. So I think that’s a lot of it. A lot of the requests that we’re getting are from grandparents and they’re calling in and saying I want one for myself, can I have one also, or does it only go to my daughter and son-in-law because it’s their son or daughter who’s over there.

But whatever the reason is, I’m glad. Even though we’re out of our Blue Stars anybody who calls in we give them that website, www.bluestarmothers.org. They can get on that website and there is a printable version on that website and we were on there last Friday and they have 3 different versions with 1, 2 and 3 stars which is great. So even after we ran out, they can still get them.

I understood that the American Legion Post here has an order placed.

Ruth Wade: They have some. They were doing something. They were looking into doing a couple of different things and I think one of them was going to be almost a decal sort of thing. Then if you wanted to put it in you car window you could because we’re such a mobile country now, where people back in the 40’s weren’t. Back then not everybody had a car, let alone 2 or 3. I thought that was probably a good idea too. I liked that idea. I don’t know whether the Blue Star mothers have anything like that, I really didn’t have the time to get into the website to see what else they offered other than just the banners.

But most of the requests that are coming in, they want the ones they can put in the window. I talked to one lady and she said I want that for my window and you’ll know my house when you go by because I’ve got my flags out, I’ve got my yellow ribbons tied on the banister, and she said now I want, she had 2 in the military, my Blue Stars to hang. So, now she has them. I told her if I drive by on my way home I’ll toot. Another thing too, it gives you a chance to talk to these people and meet these people, which I think is great. You find out a little bit more about what they’re doing and what we’re doing at the Red Cross. A chance to kind of relate to each other and find out what do you need, what are your questions and what can we do to help. Any time you can do that it’s good too. It gives you one more thing that you can relate to.

I bet you’ve heard some interesting stories.

Ruth Wade: Yes, you do.

Are there families in this area that have more than 1 son or daughter in the services?

Ruth Wade: Yes, we’ve had families that had brothers and sisters in and then we have families to that have like a brother and sister here and a brother and sister over there. We’ve got 4 that are cousins and maybe you have an uncle, things like that. I think we had 1 family that had 6 people from different branches of the family and 2 different generations. They called in and asked and I think we sent out 6 to them by the time we got all the different mothers and fathers together. It seems to happen a lot that the younger want to follow what the older ones do. That seems to be true an awful lot in the military families. That’s a good thing too. When you look at a person who’s been in the military and had that military training, there’s just a certain way the walk, a certain way they carry themselves. When these young fellas come in we don’t have to much to do with them but occasionally they’ll stop in. They’re so polite and it’s “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am”, it’s just that military training. I think it’s good for them. The war part of it isn’t, but I think military training is a good thing.

I wonder how many homes have old Blue Star banners folded away from various military campaigns? When the campaigns ends do you take the banner down or do you throw it away?

Ruth Wade: You don’t throw that away. I would imagine, this is just my personal opinion, probably 75% of them would keep them. That would just be something that you fold away. If you had a person in the military that passed away and they fold that flag, you keep that flag. I have my dad’s and he’s been gone over 50 years. I still have that folded flag from a grateful nation. It’s the same thing with that Blue Star, there’s probably a lot of people who get up the attics and look around and they think gee whiz, what was this and there it is packed away. I know when we go out, like to the Pearl Harbor Day Memorials, the fellas when they come if they can still get in to that uniform that they wore back in the 40’s, they are so proud. There was a lady and maybe she’ll hear this, but she came, she had on her WAC uniform and did she ever look spiffy. She was so proud she could still wear that uniform. I thought that’s great. There are things like that you don’t normally see, you see the little cartoons and sitcoms when the guy gets the uniform out and he’s trying to get it buttoned, it’s to bad that they didn’t have some kind of Velcro at that time. It’s just something that you’re always proud of and that Blue Star is something that these ladies are always proud of. So, no, they don’t throw them away.

Do you have any Blue Stars in your family?

Ruth Wade: No, no I don’t, because I wasn’t born until after my dad got out of the World War I. So now whether his mom had one from WWI or not I don’t know. I didn’t have any brothers that served in WWII and I had a son that was in the Army, but he was peace time Army. And my ex-husband was in the Navy, but there again it was the peace time Navy. So we didn’t have them. Like you say, you did not see them during, I don’t remember seeing them during Korea and Vietnam like you did during WWII. Maybe that’s our fault, maybe we weren’t looking for them.

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