Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega writes about Blue Star Memorial Highways, a way to honor our armed forces beginning with WWII. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
Have you seen the signs? Those Blue Star Memorial Highway Markers have a history of honoring veterans, but are rooted in a garden club. Reading old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, provides background on these markers and what they represent.
Blue Star Memorial Highway and By-Way Markers
Today’s nationwide highway markers got their start in 1944 with the New Jersey Council of Garden Clubs “as a living memorial to veterans of World War II.” That living memorial included the planting of 8,000 Dogwood trees along a stretch of U.S. 22. Mrs. Vance Hood, Chairwoman of the Blue Star Memorial Highway, wrote of the idea for a memorial:
“Following every war there is a universal urge to honor the heroes and events by some tangible expression of gratitude. The trend toward living memorials rather than the erection of mere monuments of stone has mounted steadily. With America on wheels, the National Council of State Garden Clubs has felt that the development of our roadsides for safety, beauty and the enjoyment of our veterans and their families was an appropriate memorial to their services.” (1)
According to the National Garden Clubs’ website:
“In 1945, the National Council of State Garden Clubs (now NGC, Inc.) adopted this program and began a Blue Star Highway system that covers thousands of miles across the Continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii. Blue Star Memorial Highway Markers were placed along the way. The Blue Star was adopted because it had become an icon in World War II and was seen on flags and banners in homes for sons and daughters away at war as well as in churches and businesses.” (2)
Originally meant to honor World War II servicemen and women, today the markers honor all those who have served in the military.
Not Just on Highways
While the name “highway” may conjure up a freeway in your mind (it did for me), some of these markers are not on busy thoroughfares – but instead, are slightly off the main roads. Originally the plan for the Blue Star Highway was to “follow the interregional routes, one cross-county highway; seven, north and south.” (3) But the definition of where the Blue Star Highway Markers could be placed changed over time. I found that to be true in markers I visited, the most recent at the Red River Valley Veterans Memorial in Paris, Texas.
In fact, the Memorial Highway and By-Way Markers can be found in “National Cemeteries, parks, veterans’ facilities, parks and gardens.” (4)
This Oregonian newspaper article from 1953 refers to the “roadside picnic spots” that some of Oregon’s markers grace.
Markers continue to be placed, just not with the same frequency as right after the program began. When markers were placed, dedication ceremonies included local officials and National Garden Club members.
Today over 3,000 markers can be found throughout the United States. (5) The National Garden Club website includes a list of markers by state. Another list can be found on the Wikipedia page Blue Star Memorial Highway.
(1) Notes on the Blue Star Memorial Highways in “Short Course on Roadside Development” via Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=yFxLAQAAMAAJ&dq=%22blue%20star%20memorial%20Highway%22&pg=PA179#v=onepage&q=%22blue%20star%20memorial%20Highway%22&f=false: accessed 24 August 2019).
(2) “Honoring Those Who have Served Our Country,” National Garden Clubs (http://gardenclub.org/projects/blue-star-memorials.aspx: accessed 24 August 2019).
(3) Notes on the Blue Star Memorial Highways in “Short Course on Roadside Development” via Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=yFxLAQAAMAAJ&dq=%22blue%20star%20memorial%20Highway%22&pg=PA179#v=onepage&q=%22blue%20star%20memorial%20Highway%22&f=false: accessed 24 August 2019).
(5) “Blue Star Markers,” Military.com (https://www.military.com/military-report/blue-star-markers.html: accessed 24 August 2019).