ONE PROUD MAMA — Rena Wright, one of only a handful of five-star Blue Star Mothers, said she is “proud of my boys” – five of whom have served, one currently, in the military. Photos by Joshua Gordon.
SPRINGVILLE — Marsha Reding and Jean Maul remembered making cookies, not just for their brothers, but other members of their family members’ battalions.
“We sent care packages constantly,” said Reding.
“We were always baking, and we didn’t just send them to the boys,” Maul recalled. “They’d say we have so many in the battalion –”
“And the cookies and the care packages – they just grew and grew,” said Reding, finishing her sister’s sentence.
“I started doing [care] boxes, and would ask other family members if they’d like to put their boxes in mine. One box grew to three boxes. I was sending them monthly. I was baking a lot,” she added.
By the time they were finished – well, they never really finished – the cookies they shipped off numbered in the thousands, according to the sisters.
KEEPING IN TOUCH — With the help of the Voices From Home Project, the Wrights were able to keep in touch with sons and brothers serving overseas in the ‘60s. Sisters Jean Maul and Marsha Redding kept the recording, along with hand-written letters and a news clipping describing the project.
With five brothers in the military, Reding and Maul explained that cookies and care packages were a way for the family to keep in touch, despite being half a world away. But that was not the only way to keep in contact.
The Voice From Home project, administered by the American Red Cross, allowed families to record messages to servicemen and women overseas.
“A lot of these guys, what got them through was communicating with their families. That’s why the Voice From Home was so important,” said Maul.
Maul and Reding still have a clipping from a 1968 edition of the Buffalo Evening News, “Springville Disc Data for 3 in the Service,” which described the program.
“Five of the 10 children of Mrs. Rena Wright of Springville,” reported the News, “accompanied their mother in recording a Christmas message to Seaman [Third Class] Donald Wright, a member of the crew of the USS Arlington.”
The article also noted that 30 other families made records for servicemen while the Voice From Home project was conducted in Springville Presbyterian Church.
“Mrs. Wright has two other sons in the service, Staff Sgt. Daniel Jr. has been in the Air Force eight years. David Wright served four years in the Navy and is re-enlisted and will report for duty after the holidays,” the article continued.
“Mrs. Wright” remembers it vividly: “I had a plaid winter coat, black and white. I had the boys, the little tots, with me. There were only two of them. That was very nice, what [the Red Cross] did for us.”
The Wright family, headed by Rena and her husband, Merle, would have two more sons in the military: Dennis Wright, of Calif., who would become a sergeant in the Air Force, and Timothy Wright, of Jamestown, an Army major.
HAIL, HAIL, THE GANG’S ALL HERE — The Wrights decked out their former Elk Street home in Springville to welcome their military men. Photo submitted by Marsha Reding.
David Wright became a lieutenant commander before retiring, and currently lives in Florida. Donald Wright, of Springville, retired from the Navy as a communications yeoman-3. His brother Daniel became a master sergeant before retiring and moving to Alaska, where he passed away in 2011.
Timothy Wright still serves in the military, and is currently assigned as the commander of the 1st Battalion, 390th Regiment, 4th Brigade, 98th Division. He has been deployed to Iraq, as well as serving three tours in Afghanistan, and has been an active member of the US Army Reserve for more than 27 years.
Reding, of Collins Center, and Maul, of Springville, also have a brother, Richard, who is deceased, and two sisters, Kathryn Artingstall, who resides in Florida, and Barbara DeJospeh, of Lakewood, N.Y. A third sister, Deborah, passed away as an infant.
In May of this year, Tim Wright served as a keynote speaker at a Gold Star Memorial honoring seven deceased military members from Chautauqua County and their families. There, he met and spoke to Susan Rowley, president of the Lake Erie NY Chapter 4 of the Blue Star Mothers, an organization that “provides support for active duty service personnel, promotes patriotism, assists Veterans organizations and are available to assist in homeland volunteer efforts to help our country remain strong,” according to the organization’s website.
One symbol adopted by The Blue Star Mothers is the “blue star flag,” or Service Flag. The flag, which often hangs in the windows of families that have a member serving in the military, features a white background with a red border and a blue star for each family member in the service, and gold stars for those who have been killed.
When Rowley heard that Wright had four brothers who had served, she was inspired to contact his mother.
“I had you in my heart since your son told me about you,” wrote Rowley, in a letter to Rena. “When he told me that you have loved and raised  children and that five of them have served, and one is still serving our country, it amazed me. Do you realize you are a Five Star Blue Star Mother?”
Tim Wright estimated that there are only a handful of five-star mothers on record. Rowley had an even more conservative estimate: “You are the only mother of five children serving that we know, and that is something we all are in awe of,” she wrote. Since five-star mothers are so rare, Reding explained, Rowley had a five-star banner specially made for her mother, and named her an honorary member of her chapter of the Blue Star Mothers.
“Being a Five Star Blue Star Mother is a reflection of your life and the wonderful job you have done, in raising your family. I respect you very much;” continued Rowley, “you are a true hero in my eyes, as are your military children.”
Wright, now 92 and living at the Jennie B. Richmond Nursing Home in Springville, said she was overwhelmed with pride.
“I’m proud of my boys. Not many mothers can say that their boys outlived their service. They stayed in the service because they wanted to. They were not drafted, none of them,” said Wright, a quaver in her voice. “They joined because they all wanted to serve.”
“Running the streets [as kids], they had something in their minds, and I’m glad for it. My husband and I raised the kids till graduation time, then they were all on their own. We offered to help them, but they all wanted to be independent.”
Wright credits her ability to raise a family of 11, including five military men, to God and her husband.
“Who I credit all this to is the Lord in Heaven. Without my husband, I couldn’t have done it, either. We weren’t wealthy people, but we took good care of our family,” she said.
Maul remembers it being difficult, at times, for her mother to have so many sons overseas.
“It was hectic, because you never knew [if they were OK] until you got the letters,” said Maul. “Usually until they were already home and you got the letters saying where they’d been. For mom, it was very trying.”
Things have come a long way, since the Voice From Home project. These days, email allows family members to keep in closer contact with their deployed loved ones.
Reding recalled ordering her brother a laptop, which was air dropped to him, during one tour of duty.
“It took a little while to get there,” she said, but added that it was worth the wait, since it helped them stay in touch.
And the baking hasn’t stopped. Reding said that she and Maul are still sending packages to boys they know overseas.
Along with their sons, the Wright family also recognizes Miner Lang, this Veterans Day. Lang isbrother-in-law to Rena. Lang served during WWII and was a German prisoner of war. Lang, a West Valley native and Army Corporal, died in 2010.