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Gold Star mother

Gold Star mother

May 1942: Thelma B. England of Alhambra is a new Gold Star mother. Her son Ensign John C. England was lost at Pearl Harbor aboard the battleship Oklahoma.

This photo was published on May 10, 1942, Mother’s Day, on the front page of the Los Angeles Times local news section.

The Mother’s Day story reported:

It’s not so pleasant this first Mother’s Day of wartime America; particularly for the mothers.

For instance, there’s little Mrs. Harry B. England of … Alhambra. Back in Missouri 20 years ago last Dec. 11, she became the mother of a fine son she named John Charles England. When John was 6 the family came here.

John was an honor student at Alhambra High School where he was president of the senior class and yell leader, and he was yell leader at Pasadena Junior College, where he was graduated in June two years ago. A year later he won a commission as a Navy ensign and reported aboard the battleship Oklahoma in San Francisco last September.

You may guess the rest.

This morning there is pasted on the front window of the England home a service flag bearing a gold star. It’s the only visible reminder of a sturdy, pleasant boy who used to play on the lawn of that comfortable, once happy home.

Ensign England also left a wife, the former Helen Elaine Jennerich, and a 3-week-old daughter, Victoria Louise, when he died.

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, England survived the capsizing of the  Oklahoma but three times he reentered the vessel to save three men. On his fourth rescue attempt, did not return.

For his heroism, the Navy named two ships after him. The first USS England, a destroyer escort, was launched Sept. 26, 1943. His mother christened it with a bottle of Champagne.  In 1944, this USS England sank six Japanese subs in 12 days, earning a Presidential Unit Citation. In 1945, the ship was heavily damaged by a kamikaze aircraft and was never repaired.

The second USS England, a Leahy-class guided missile cruiser, was commissioned in 1963 and decommissioned in 1994.

The USS England website is dedicated to both warships and the memory of Ensign John Charles England.

The Gold Star tradition started during World War I. Army Capt. Robert L. Queisser designed a banner to honor his two sons serving in the war. The tradition caught on, and families began displaying the service flag decorated with a blue star for every family member in service and a gold star for each family member lost.

The American Gold Star Mothers Inc. was formed shortly after World War I and is active today.

Sept. 26, 1943: The first USS England is christened by Thelma B. England, mother of Ensign John C. England, the ship’s namesake, during launching ceremonies at the Bethlehem Steel Co. shipyard in San Francisco. Credit: U.S. Navy/National Archives

Middle photo above: Family portrait of John Charles England provided by his mother in 1976 to the Naval History and Heritage Command. 


  1. June 27, 2012, 7:16 am


  2. June 29, 2012, 7:52 am

    Wonderful tribute to an American hero!

  3. July 1, 2012, 9:14 am

    They truly were the "Greatest Generation".


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