Friday, November 11, 2011

One More Star, One More Stripe...

It's Veteran's Day, and I'm thinking about the countless mothers over time that have begrudgingly sent their children off to war.

Something I've learned since becoming pregnant and having a child, women are strong, but to what extent? 

I can't imagine letting him leave, my child?!

The worry.  The pain.  The pride.  The helplessness...

In reading my father's story, The Struggles of an Irish Family, I was amazed to learn that my Great-Grandmother Anna Colwell Mulligan suffered a most tragic war fate...  she had a nervous breakdown!

Anna Margaretta Colwell Mulligan, circa 1908

Here's her war story (told from my father's perspective, as told to him by his father, my late grandfather, William Joseph Mulligan):

The sixth of seven children, my father went to work when he was a young teenager.  From eight in the morning until three in the afternoon, he went to school.  From four until midnight, he worked for forty cents an hour at the Emsig Button Company placing button holes on navy uniforms.  

Shortly after graduating high school, the government drafted him in the Navy.  Upon completing boot camp in New Jersey, my father was assigned to the USS. FIREDRAKE, an ammunition ship.  The ship travelled to the Pacific, and was assigned to the seventh fleet with the USS. DETROIT as its flagship.  My father's ship saw action off the shores of the Marshall Islands, Gilbert Islands, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

My father stayed with his ship until it was decommissioned on the Sabine River in Texas.  Three months later he was discharged from the US Navy.

From there, he returned to New York to find his neighborhood, the Gashouse District, destroyed.  In place of modest railroad flats, they were building larger apartments with showers and hot water, in a development which is now called Peter Cooper and Stuyvesant Town. 

My father was unaware that his home was condemned and his mother evicted!  He had written his mother, Anna, during the war, but mail service was unavailable to him while in the Pacific.  He learned through people still residing in the neighborhood that his family had moved to the Bronx.

He went to the Bronx, and discovered that his mother had had a nervous breakdown.  She couldn't take the stress what with four of her children in the war, and an eviction from her family home.  She worried about her boys and was most afraid that when her children finally returned, they would be unable to find her. 
My grandmother, Anna Colwell Mulligan, was committed to Creedmour State Hospital on Hillside Avenue in Queens.  She spent the rest of her life there, and died twenty-four years to the day of her admittance.

In resting my mind for just a moment, I'm filled with respect and gratitude on so many levels.  What strength!

Thank you, Veterans!  And mothers, too!

The Strong Women I Never Knew:

My great-great-grandmother

Jane Geheran Colwell, circa 1912

These final shots are of my great-grandmother and her sisters

l-r:  Jeanette Colwell, Anna Mulligan, Ethel Cunningham, Mary Kerrigan
May 16, 1939

l-r:  Mary Kerrigan, Anna Mulligan and Ethel Cunningham
May 16, 1939

l-r:  Mary Kerrigan (seated), Ethel Cunningham, Anna Mulligan, Jeanette Colwell
Summer, 1966

The Flagmaker, 1775 (From "Songs For A New World")

When the man's in battle
And the baby's rattle
Only makes you more depressed
The wise woman does what she knows
If it's fighting, she fights
If it's sewing, she sews
When the tension inside
Overflows and goes too far

One more star, one more stripe
To escape your lonely bed
One more star, one more stripe
Join the blue, the white and red
One more star, one more stripe
As you pray your child's not dead

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  1. I love pictures into the past. Consider yourself lucky to have names to give those figures!

  2. We are a strong kind that's for sure, I don't know we could ever decipher how strong a woman can be for her children.


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