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Mothers Day and the selection of an Unknown Soldier in 1958
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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

The history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, dates back to 1921 when Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War 1 in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater. On Memorial Day, 1921, in the city hall of Chalons-sur-Marne, France, a highly decorated U.S. Army soldier, Sgt. Edward F. Younger, was given the honor of selecting one of four identical caskets. That chosen unknown soldier was then transported back to Washington D.D. where he lied in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Nov. 11, 1921, and was then interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Then, in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill to select an unknown from World War II and from the Korean War to honor in the same way. An Associated Press report in the May 12, 1958 edition of The Great Bend Tribune, “Unknown Yank GI in Europe Honored Today,” told the story of the selection of the World War II soldier.
“A moist-eyed general solemnly marched past 13 flag-draped caskets today and chose one symbolizing American servicemen who died unidentified in Europe and North Africa in World War II.
“The casket was borne away to a rendezvous at sea to join a similarly selected American who died in the Pacific. One of these nameless men will be the Unknown Soldier of World War II. The other will be buried at sea off Norfolk, Va.”
The article described how the general lay a wreath on the casket, fifth from the left, and a bugler played ”Taps” while a far-off second bugler echoed, and “a grey mist hung over the cemetery where 5,000 American dead are buried in the Vosges Mountains overlooking the winding Moselle River.”
The unknown World War II soldier would be joined by his Korean War counterpart on May 28, 1958 in the Capitol Rotunda until they were interred in the Plaza next to the World War I soldier. Since then, an Unknown Soldier of Vietnam has been added, Memorial Day, May 28, 1984. However, in 1998, the remains of the Vietnam era soldier were exhumed and through mitochondrial DNA testing were identified as Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. The tomb remains vacant.

Mothers and more
An editorial in the 1958 Mother’s Day edition of the Tribune celebrated mothers who belonged to Home Demonstration Units in Barton County, who were wrapping up the 13th National Home Demonstration week.
There were 850 members in Barton County, and there were 43,000 statewide, making it the largest women’s organization in the state.
“About half of Barton County’s members live on farms or in the rural areas. The other half are urban members. Fifteen of the 48 units are in Great Bend.”
The groups were started as far back as 1917, an effort of the Kansas Extension Service. By 1958, it noted, the life of the rural homemaker rivaled that of the urban.
“She’s every bit as chic a dresser now, as well informed about what’s going on, and as community minded as her city cousin. More than likely her home is every bit as modern and more than likely she can drive to the store almost as quickly as her friends within the city limits. And these days she’s as apt to be taking a job away from home as her city counterpart.”
The editorial went on to outline differences in the curriculum over 50 years.
“Forty years ago extension women were learning how to cull hens, can with steam, and make dresses without commercial patterns. They made “fireless” cookers to keep their kitchens cooler and save fuel during World War I. On the homefront they battled flies with tricky flytraps they made at HDU.”
Somehow, these long-ago moms had more backbone compared to those of 1958, at least to the ears of this writer:
“Women study work simplification and how to make better buys on equipment, furnishings, clothing and groceries. But they still seem to want to learn the basic simple things like cooking, sewing and making their homes as attractive and comfortable as possible. Deep down inside, you know why they do these things -- just for you.” Uh, well. Sorry, it gets a little icky here...
“And where is there a male fearless enough to so much as suggest that we would be what we are--where we are-- or nearly so well off without the women-- the mothers?”
Commentator Dorothy Bowman offered a little history of Mother’s Day in her column.
“Mother’s Day was actually founded in 1908 by Miss Anna Jarvis of Grafton, W. Va, as she initiated memorial services for her own mother. Now, exactly 50 years later, the day is being observed the world over.”
Thoughts on motherhood today abound, many underscoring the eternal nurturing qualities of mothers. But there is no denying that today’s mom may be just as apt to offer her children advice on choosing the right college, the right way to change the oil in your car, how to set up a 401 K or IRA plan, and how to navigate countless other obstacles in life, and dads today are just as capable of teaching the kids how to sew on a button or bake cookies for the school bake sale. Everyone today needs to be more self sufficient, and mothers and fathers are both sharing the responsibilities of helping their kids get off to a great start. Perhaps someday, there will simply be a Parents Day? Visionary thinking, say, for 2058?
Happy Mother’s Day, 2018.