A salute to the Mothers of Freedom
My mother, Gloria, was married to a military man. She moved her family 22 times in 31 years, over three continents, through three wars. Dad wore the uniform; Mom wore the brave smile. She served her country every bit as much as her husband, Ken, did, and she did so with no hesitation, no complaint, no regret. Mom was the wife of a warrior — she kept the home fires burning while Dad put his life on the line to protect his family and country.
I realize now that Mom put her life on the line, too. She was just 22 years old when she boarded ship in San Francisco and spent the next 21 days — horribly seasick — sailing to the Philippines to join my father. She stayed up on deck much of the time, carrying her 9-month-old baby (me) in her arms, trying desperately to calm her queasy stomach. Over the years, she always said how grateful she was for the kindness of sailors and strangers who helped care for me during her miserable voyage across the Pacific.
Just a few months after we arrived in the Philippines, the Korean War broke out and Dad was sent to Japan, leaving his young family behind. Mom would sometimes stand on the front porch of our house on base, with her toddler on her hip and a gun in her other hand. She could hear the Hukbalahap insurgents fighting just a mile up the road and at night she could see the flashes of gunfire in the nearby mountains. It would be six months before she was allowed to join my father.
It couldn’t have been easy for a young mother to be alone with her baby in a foreign country, with communist insurgents fighting nearby. But when my mother tells the story now, she always makes it sound like a great adventure rather than a terrifying war zone. That’s Mom — always putting a positive spin on things.
A few years later, after short stints in Montana, Texas, Los Angeles and Sacramento, we got transferred to Virginia for six months, where Dad attended Armed Forces War College in Norfolk. At the time, the South was experiencing mounting racial tension, and I recall my mother cautioning me to be careful at school. The military culture in which we lived was remarkably free of racism and bigotry, so I was ill-prepared to deal with racial issues on the playground. Looking back, I think Mom was more worried about the covert racial conflict in the American South than the overt military conflict in the Far East.
In 1959 we shipped out to Germany, where we had our longest tour of duty — four-and-a-half years — during which we moved three times. Dad often joked that just when Mom got a place fixed up the way she liked it, we had to move again. Mom always laughed, but I’m not sure she really thought it was funny.
We were stationed in West Germany when the Cold War began. The Berlin Wall went up and so did the tension in the air. Everyone lived in a constant state of alert, wondering and waiting to see if families would have to be evacuated stateside. My parents never talked about their fear of a World War III, but kids are intuitive — we could sense something ominous looming.
My high school years were spent in Illinois, followed by our second tour of duty in Germany. Then Dad was off to War College again, this time in Montgomery, Ala. From there it was north to Dover, Del., for a couple of years, then south to Puerto Rico. Next was Thailand for Dad, while Mom remained stateside in San Diego so my brother Roger could finish high school.
And so it went over the years — from base to base, state to state, country to country — Mom hauling her kids and boxes of belongings (and sometimes a cat or dog) from one assignment to the next. She was a military mom and that’s just what they do — get their marching orders and report for duty.
Every day, month after month, year in and year out, in wartime and in peacetime, millions of American women serve their country with honor. They support their military husbands, while raising children in the shadow of the fortress. They often do long stints as single moms, while their husbands are overseas for extended periods.
There are no medals for bravery awarded to the wives of warriors — but there should be. These remarkable women deserve their own “Mother of Freedom” medal.
On this Mother’s Day, remember the military moms. Seek them out. They are the unsung heroes — the patriot moms who serve our country with selfless love and loyalty. Salute them. Thank them. Hug them. Honor them. They are the Mothers of Freedom.
BJ Gallagher is a sociologist, author and speaker. Her latest book is “It’s Never Too Late To Be What You Might Have Been.”