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It was a muggy July evening in 1946 when five women whose husbands had died in World War II traveled to Hyde Park, New York, to meet with another war widow, Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt wrote in her news column, My Day, that they, “…came for supper, and then went to Poughkeepsie [where] the Lafayette Post of the American Legion had given them permission to use a room for a meeting. It was a small meeting, though the casualties among servicemen from Dutchess County were pretty high.” In fact, more than 175 men from Dutchess County alone were killed or MIA by 1945.

The five women who met with Mrs. Roosevelt had grown from an original group of four widows who had first met together in Marie Jordan’s apartment on West 20th Street in New York City in 1945 to talk about how they might band together to support the needs of war widows and their children, and to participate in memorial and recognition ceremonies for the war dead. Their appeal to Mrs. Roosevelt to join with them after President Roosevelt’s death was auspicious. She became one of the original signers when the Gold Star Wives of America was chartered as a non-profit organization whose purpose was to do any and all things to benefit the spouses and children of persons who died in war or as a result of service connected illness.

Today there are more than 9,000 active members of Gold Star Wives  and potentially 80,000 more survivors who are eligible for membership. It is not a group that one covets simply because of the very fact of how you become eligible. But, its membership does represent courageous spouses from all backgrounds and faiths who have been obliged to enter a different kind of battle; to protect the rights and privileges of all survivors, to honor our spouses and their comrades, and to support the efforts of those who assist disabled veterans.

Gold Star Wives gather at Colorado Freedom Memorial

Gold Star Wives gather at Colorado Freedom Memorial

Currently there are local chapters in all parts of the United States, and members-at-large who live throughout the world. The organization is primarily supported by membership dues and the proceeds of a “Stay-at-home-tea” event held once per year. Gold Star Wives of America has also been remembered in the legacies of several thankful members who have since died.

U.S. members are located in States divided among eight regions of the country. Chapters hold meetings throughout the year and each region holds a conference in the Spring to make recommendations to the National Board Meeting held usually in July. It is a busy, productive organization with many opportunities to participate and become connected with kindred souls.

 

Kathleen and Judi at Eisenhauer Chapel in Colorado

Gold Star Wives, Kathleen and Judi, attend memorial service at Dwight D. Eisenhower Chapel in Colorado

At the most recent National Board meeting held in Denver this year, I was part of a sea of enthusiastic smiling women who glowed like golden goddesses because of the predominance of yellow clothing and hats we wear. I saw Nancy from Maine, Debra from California, Rachel from Alabama, and scores of others from across the country whom I’ve come to know. At a special event, those of us who lost our spouse because of the Vietnam War were being celebrated as part of the fifty-year commemoration of the war. As I glanced around the soaring classical style rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol at my many “sisters” in gold, I thought of those four women back in 1945 who were still so recently aggrieved when they held that first meeting but had the courage to say: “We can do this. We can survive.  Perhaps we can even thrive.” And they did.

Because of what makes us a group, I dream that someday the reason for our existence – war – will become extinct and we will no longer need such an organization. But, in the meantime, you can find out more information by visiting www.goldstarwives.org. If you know that you are eligible for membership because of how your spouse died, please visit the website and/or send an e-mail to info@goldstarwives.org.

My Buddy's Hat (the flag in repose)