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Commentary: Remembering the sacrifice of a soldier's mother

Sara Curry's postcard
Sara Curry's postcard

By Jim Nolan


Buffalo, NY – This Memorial Day listener commentary was going to be about my great uncle, Lt. John V. Curry, Company E, 28th Infantry, First Division, who died in France on May 28, 1918 on the first day of the Battle of Cantigny. But upon reading his Army burial file, I found another hero to write about. It's John's mother, Sara Frances Curry. My great-grandmother.

Sara Curry never got a break. Her husband Gilbert, a principal in Plains, Pennsylvania, was struck and killed by lightning in 1898, leaving her to raise John, my grandmother Isabel, and Frank, their brother. Nineteen years later John, by all accounts a remarkable young man, U.B. student, and part of the cream of the officer corps that was chosen to represent the U.S. in its first engagement in World War I, was struck by a sniper's bullet.

At first Sara wanted to bring her son's remains back to be buried in a national cemetery, but changed her mind a few months later: "I want my son to rest where he fell." Sara panicked that the government didn't receive her request, and wrote letter after letter trying to make sure they did. Eventually, John was buried in the Somme American Cemetery near Bony, France, and Sarah went to visit the grave in 1923.

Seven years later, the government offered her and the other mothers and widows an all-expenses paid pilgrimage to Europe to visit the graves of their loved ones. She sailed from New York City on the SS Republic on June 25, and arrived in Cherbourg eight days later at 10:30 PM. The trips had been scheduled from May through September, when the passage would be less rough.

According to Gold Star Mother's Remembrance by John W. Graham, "Each woman visited the grave over three or four successive days. The Army presented each with a wreath of flowers, a photograph of the mother at the grave, and plenty of time alone." Sara's itinerary for July 7 also notes: "Left hotel by bus at 3PM for Arc de Triomphe where Mrs. Emmaline Neubert placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Tea and reception at restaurant Laurent after ceremony."

When Sara returned to Wilkes Barre, she mailed the pre-printed return card to the officer in charge. The typeset line reads "I beg to inform you that I have returned to my home safely and in good health. Sincerely" and here's what got to me Sarah added in her own perfect schoolteacher's handwriting "and gratefully." "And gratefully Sara F. Curry." After all she'd been through in life, she was grateful.

The U.S. lost 116,000 soldiers in World War I. This Memorial Day, I'll be thinking of their sacrifice. I'll also be thinking of their mothers'.

Listener-commentator Jim Nolan is an advertising executive in New York City who grew up in Snyder.

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