Bertie May Price Doyle: A Gold Star Mother

In studying military research, many times it's the male servicemen that receive all of the recognition in genealogy. With the accessibility of service records, it's easy to allow their experiences to shape the stories that are told and remembered. But no service man or woman exists in isolation. Behind every member of the military is a family who share in their loved one's sacrifices. For Bertie Price Doyle, that sacrifice took many forms during World War II.

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The tradition of the gold star began in World War I. Families would display a flag or banner with a blue star on it for every serviceman they had away from home. For those who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for their country, the blue star would be traded out for a gold star. Since that time, many different organizations supporting "gold star" families have been established. Beginning with the Gold Star Wives, that support has since expanded to all immediate family members who lose someone in wartime conflict.

Charles "Charlie" Miller Doyle and Bertie Price Doyle had several sons who served in the military. Clarence Monroe Doyle was their oldest son to serve. He enlisted on the 27th of December 1940, just under a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Charlie died in Wicomico County, Maryland in the summer of 1942, leaving Bertie to face the family's coming tragedy as a widow.

In April 1943, Clarence Doyle was declared missing in North Africa. Notably, this comes at the tail end of the fighting in that region. The Allies were making crucial ground on that front. A strategic fight to solidify the Allies' access to middle-eastern oil fields, control of North Africa would change the direction of the war. The fighting in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Morocco resulted in overwhelming losses for Italian and German forces stationed in that region. The heaviest casualties for the Allies in the North African campaigns were with the British armed forces. American casualties make up one of the smallest percentages of the total lives lost in North Africa. Nevertheless, every single one of them was still felt to the families on the home front.

The Daily Times, digital images, ( : 2 March 2017) citing "Pocomoke Soldier Missing in Action" (Salisbury, MD) The Daily Times, 21 June 1943, p. 1, col. 8.

By June 1943, news of Clarence's disappearance had reached his home on the Maryland eastern shore. Here, my attention turns to Bertie. We've all seen the scenes in movies where government issued vehicles drive down country dirt roads in war time, where everyone secretly prays they'll go to someone else's house. A soldier goes to the door to deliver a telegram, announcing that a loved one is either missing, dead, or a prisoner of war. As I contemplated what it meant for Bertie to get this news, to be told Clarence was missing instead of dead, my heart broke for her. How long did she hold onto the hope that Clarence would still come home? When did she change her star from blue to gold?

I ask because as of July 1944, the newspaper at home was still reporting Clarence as missing, not wounded or killed in action. The fervency of that hope is tangible to me all these years later, that desperate determination that life should prevail over death and destruction.

The Daily Times, digital images, ( : 2 March 2017) citing "202 Easter Shoremen Killed, Wounded or Missing in World War No.2" (Salisbury, MD) The Daily Times, 18 July 1944, p. 1, col. 7.

Clarence Monroe Doyle was eventually declared Killed in Action, his death date given as 30 April 1943. Even if this is a rough estimate, this would place him at the final showdown between the German forces and General George Patton at the Battle of El Guettar and its aftermath. An artillery battle in the Tunisian desert, the scene would have been one of explosions, heat, sand, and blood. After a prolonged struggle against the superior firepower and experience of the German Panzer Division, the only thing that could help the Americans to turn things around was British reinforcements and a change in American leadership. Under the command of General Patton, the once superior German forces were gradually outmaneuvered, and squeezed into positions of disadvantage. Eventually, the Americans had them surrounded. Assuming that the date of Clarence Doyle's death is accurate, he died less than two weeks before the German surrender on 13 May 1943.

U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962, digital images, ( : 2 March 2017) for "Clarance M. Doyle," citing Interment Control Forms, A1 2110-B. Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, Record Group 92. The National Archives at College Park, College Park, Maryland.

According to the documentation that accompanies his plot in Baltimore National Cemetery, it appears that his remains were returned and interred in 1948. Given the isolated onslaught of the campaign in Tunisia, I have a hard time envisioning any kind of organized burial for the men who died in battle. Many of them were incinerated or obliterated in tanks, with no remains to speak of. Many perished and remained where they fell in the desert, where their unidentifiable bodies are found by locals to this day. I'd be interested to read about any concerted efforts the United States made to identify remains in Tunisia after the war. But I find it difficult to imagine a scenario in which Clarence's actual remains return from Africa, as opposed to an honorary burial.

I don't know how much of this Bertie would have been told. But knowing that she carried this pain makes me a feel a powerful love and empathy for her. She was a gold star mother. I had no sense of what that meant before I did this research. Part of me will never understand. But when I was searching for images for this post and I came across The Freedom Wall memorial for World War II, my reaction to the image is overwhelming. One of these stars represents Clarence, and the pain of a family who mourned his passing.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One of these stars tells a story from my heritage that had been forgotten... until now.