MILLEDGEVILLE — During World War II, citizens honored family service by hanging flags featuring blue stars outside of homes and businesses recognizing the ultimate sacrifice.
Shortly after the war ended, National Garden Clubs looked for a suitable way of honoring service men and women through a living memorial. The Garden Club of New Jersey planted 1,000 dogwood trees on a five-mile stretch of highway designated Blue Star Drive.
The National Council of State Garden Clubs adopted the Blue Star Memorial Highway Program in 1946. A former National Council president designed a marker representing the designated Blue Star area.
The program's mission expanded in 1951 to include all those who had served, were serving or would serve in the armed forces of the United States. Three types of markers include the Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker, smaller By-Way Marker for park type areas and a Blue Star Memorial Marker for veteran's cemeteries or administrative centers.
According to Garden Club of Georgia Blue Star Memorial Marker Chairman Janice Thiese, nationwide locations total 2,500, and Georgia features 142, placing the state third behind California and Florida.
The most recent Blue Star addition was officially dedicated Friday morning near the entrance of the Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Vinson Highway. The Milledgeville Garden Club Council made the $1,350 purchase funded through joint programs.
Carrington Woods, Milledgeville, Town and Country and Old Capital garden clubs all supported the Blue Star idea.
Nancy Hartley, president of the Milledgeville Garden Club Council, said the marker represents people that come together to do something for the community.
“It's an extremely worthy thing to do,” Hartley said. “It's a way to honor our veterans.”
The marker near the cemetery joins one other Baldwin County Blue Star highway marker outside of Exchange Bank on Highway 441.
Hartley said the process ran smoothly through the state and then national garden club channels.
Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery Director Russell Feagin approved the Garden Club's Blue Star Marker request and is excited about the addition.
“I think it is outstanding that they did it. Veterans and active duty military need to remain in the forefront of our thoughts,” Feagin said. “Groups like the garden clubs keep bringing that to people's attention and reminding them.”
Garden Clubs of Georgia members total nearly 11,000 statewide. During the dedication, president of Old Capital Garden Club Ellen Goodrich said the markers are a visible way to care, reminding past generations of military sacrifice.
Most garden club members share a direct connection to the armed forces through family service. Without them, America wouldn't have freedom, according to Goodrich.
Thiese discovered her first Blue Star Memorial Marker in a midwest rest stop years ago. Raising awareness to the program means a lot.
“My husband is a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. That makes the program have special meaning to me,” Thiese said. “Oftentimes in today's world, many of us have loved ones who served in the armed forces. These markers show those families that their loved ones are appreciated, and more importantly that those who've made the ultimate sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
Old Capital and Town and Country garden club member Jane Thompson said most club members' dads served in WWII. During the conflict, Germans shot down her husband's father, so the double meaning rings true.
The veteran's cemetery includes around 1,900 burials of all races and religions. The Milledgeville Garden Club Council chose the location for its significant stance with future generations.
Maj. General Thomas Greer (Ret.) recalled war torn days of service during the Friday ceremony. He reminded everyone of younger veterans all volunteered.
The Blue Star Program helps bring attention to treating service men and women with due respect, according to Greer.
The plaque will forever remind cemetery visitors and passers by of the honorable memorial present in Baldwin County.
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