Minnie "Ma" Burdick: Prayers and Pies

Jun 1, 2023

As National Donut Day approaches, we must not only remember the donut lassies, but all volunteers who made an impact during World War I. One veteran said of The Salvation Army's presence during World War I, "It was a little bit of mother and home and God all rolled into one."

It would be hard to find a Salvationist more motherly in 1917 than Minnie "Ma" Burdick. Minnie Burdick's service of blessing and taking care of others did not begin nor end with World War I. The Burdick’s story with The Salvation Army starts in 1907 when Minnie and her husband Floyd became officers. Not long after arriving in France in 1917 with the first group of Salvationist volunteers, Minnie and Floyd became affectionately known by the troops as "Ma" and “Pa”.

Ma quickly became renowned for her donuts, “shrapnel” cakes, pies, and flapjacks, but what truly set her apart from the other volunteers was her motherly guidance and her teachings of the Gospel. Ma was able to feed both the soldiers' spiritual and physical hunger. Ma broke through the tough exterior of the soldiers and found men in need of care inside. The soldiers came to her underground dugout to pray with and confide in her. “I know it’s silly, but just in case…” the soldiers would say as they brought keepsakes for Ma to deliver to their mothers, sweethearts, or siblings in case they were unable to return home. Tragically, so many of them did not make it home that Ma returned with a trunk full of trinkets and delivered every last one. 

Ma was the first of three Salvationists to be awarded the prestigious Croix de Guerre, an award from the French government that translates to “Cross of War.” This honor was established during WWI and acknowledged those who gained notoriety through grand, heroic deeds amid adversity. Ma earned this medal by baking 324 pies in the span of 12 hours during nonstop enemy artillery fire. General Bramwell Booth bestowed Minnie with awards such as the International Medal and U.S. Salvation Army War Service Medal for her work overseas. As the 2nd most highly decorated Salvationist at the time, she often said that her greatest honor was being "Ma" to the men who served their country in WWI.

The Houston Chronicle honored Ma by writing, "No hero emerging from the World War deserves a more lasting place in affectionate memory than Mrs. Minnie Burdick. Men fought. Minnie Burdick served. They wrote their names in the blood of battle. She wrote hers in the hearts of all people everywhere." Ma’s main purpose was to demonstrate the gospel of love, and she never lost sight of that purpose as she baked, taught, and served the courageous and homesick men on the front lines. 

May our service today also be rooted in the gospel of love, demonstrating the love of God to all in need of a meal, a recovery story, housing assistance, or a prayer.

Today, The Salvation Army in the United States is on the frontlines confronting homelessness, hunger, substance abuse, and more through nearly 7,000 centers of operation across the country. When disaster strikes, The Salvation Army mobilizes its forces of emergency services to provide immediate care when people are facing their greatest need. To learn more about National Donut Day and The Salvation Army’s mission, visit SalvationArmyUSA.org.

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