Cotter High School in Winona, Minnesota was about to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Being a social studies teacher, it was my job to research the history of the school. In doing so I was stunned by the number of graduates who had paid with their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. Every major conflict took its toll; 17 Cotter graduates have died in the service.
The school decided to make a Gold Star Mothers Banner to honor our fallen heroes, the mothers and other loved ones left behind. It became my project. First, I went to the local Veterans Administration office and obtained a list of all those who died in the service of our county. The people at the V.A. were very helpful and encouraging. Nonetheless, it was sad to see all those heroes reduced to names on a sheet of paper.
Second, I cross-referenced all the names against our alumni files. We had a public service announcement and local business and service organizations were also approached, but these efforts did not uncover any new names.
Third, a local advertising company produced the banner at a very reasonable price.
Finally, a ceremony was planned. The relatives of all those represented on the banner were invited. Dignitaries from the American Legion and the V.F.W. gave remarks and unveiled the banner. It is almost six feet tall. It is bordered in red and contains 18 stars; 17 are gold with blue trim representing the seventeen who died, and one is solid blue representing all Cotter graduates who have served, are currently serving or will serve in the future.
Perhaps the most touching moment involved reading a letter from the sister of one of the fallen. She learned of her brother’s death after being called to the principal’s office. The young girl was told to go home and console her mother. She needed to stay strong and not to cry. On her bike ride home she bawled, but before opening the door to her house she wiped away her tears for her mother’s sake. This unsolicited letter really spoke to what the banner represents. To this day all of us are very humbled to show our appreciation for those who came before us.
Today, the banner proudly stands in the front hallway of the school. Displaying Gold Star Mothers Banners in city halls, courthouses, schools and other public venues would be a great way to tangibly show who we are as a people, to help others to know the values that have made America great, and to allow those values to endure in our nation’s future.