Gold Star Mothers' Live Oaks Named For Their Sons

HOUMA, LA (AP) — On an isolated stretch of Houma's Bayou Black Drive stands a solemn reminder of the sacrifice made by local soldiers and their families during World War II.

         The 21 live oaks shading Jim Bowie Park were planted in the late 1950s by a group of local Gold Star Mothers to honor their fallen sons.

         Now local organizations are looking to preserve this living monument by having the trees named and registered.

         The Gold Star Mothers Club is a national organization of women who have lost a child in a war. The club began in World War I. Mothers would hang banners in their windows with a star to denote each of their children who were serving in the war. A blue star indicated active duty. A gold star was for those who died in action.

         When the Houma Navigation Canal was dug in the early 1920s, the federal government controlled the property on which Jim Bowie Park sits, near the intersection of Barrow Street and Bayou Black Drive. After the federal government ceded the property back to Terrebonne Parish around 1960, the local Gold Star Mothers planted the trees.

         For the past three years, Linda Brashier, president of the Terrebonne Parish Garden Club, has worked to find and verify the names of the local men who died during World War II. The only source that named each of the 89 Terrebonne Parish soldiers was a plaque on the Terrebonne High flagpole. Brashier painstakingly researched each name on the list to ensure their killed-in-action status and their residency.

         After her research was complete, Brashier collaborated with Laura Browning and the Terrebonne Parish Tree Board to have the trees officially named for the local fallen soldiers.

         "It is important that we respect this piece of parish history and document it so future generations will understand it," Browning said in an address to the Terrebonne Parish Council last week.

         Since there are not 89 trees, each tree in the grove will be named after several of the fallen soldiers alphabetically. The Garden Club will mount a plaque inscribed with the names near each tree.

         The Louisiana Garden Club is the official naming authority for all of the live oaks in the U.S. The club keeps records of each of the over 7,500 named trees on its website. Terrebonne's Tree Board and Garden Club also keep records of the local named trees.

         According to specifications from the Live Oak Society, which is a branch of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation Inc., 18 of the trees in Jim Bowie Park are at least eight feet around and therefore large enough to be named.

         "A traditional planting that honors military dead is 21, like a 21-gun salute. So we're relatively sure that in the late '50s when these trees were planted that there were 21 in the grove," Brashier said.

         The three remaining trees in the grove were likely replaced after the original ones died from disease or damage.

         Although the registry affords no statutory protection for the trees, it does increase public visibility for their age, Browning said. This increased visibility creates a measure of respect for the trees and the men they represent.

         "It's a matter of recognition of the sustainability of our community and the sustainability of these trees that they are registered with the Live Oak Society. It doesn't grant any legal protection or any restrictions. But it honors the fact that the community has kept them intact for this long," Browning said.

         – by AP/ Reporter Chris LeBlanc with The Courier

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