Gold Star Wives finally get their day
December 15, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Dec. 15, 2010) -- The Gold Star Wives of America, Inc., has been going to Capitol Hill since December of 1945, when 23-year-old Marie Jordan invited women over for coffee after she read in the obituaries that their husbands had died. Her husband, Edward, had recently died in Germany.
"The women just wanted to talk," said Marie Jordan Speer, in a Washington Post article five years ago. Now 88, the founder of the organization said the women "wanted the companionship of others who knew what they were going through."
As a long-awaited Christmas present, U.S. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina introduced legislation to make their day a reality. He recently announced that Dec. 18 will be known as Gold Star Wives Day.
"The qualities of Gold Star Wives - their strength, selflessness and kindness toward others - reflect those of one of the organization's founders, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt," Burr said.
"Out of love and duty to their country, members of Gold Star Wives have volunteered to take on responsibilities that consume significant amounts of time and energy. By marking this day, we can offer a small token of appreciation for their patriotism and sacrifice."
Local chapters will be hosting events on Saturday, but for those in the Washington, D.C. area, the Gold Star Wives Day was formally rolled out Wednesday.
A nonprofit national military widow/widowers service organization chartered by the U.S. Congress on Dec. 4, 1980, Gold Star Wives of America, Inc., is now in all 50 states of the union. Members appear before various House and Senate committees on issues concerning compensation, educational benefits, medical care, and other programs pertaining to the welfare of military survivors.
"It's a full-time job," said Sandra J.S. Drew, president of the Gold Star Wives Middle Atlantic Region, who also works full-time as a health insurance specialist at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.
Her husband, Air Force Col. Samuel Nelson Drew, director of European Affairs for the National Security Council, was killed in Bosnia on Aug. 19, 1995, along with two U.S. diplomats when the armored vehicle in which they were riding plunged off a mountainside.
"This recognition of having our day has been a dream of our founder. This means our message can get out to more people. There are many spouses who don't know they're eligible for certain benefits," Drew said.
According to Drew, Marie Jordan Speers wanted a Gold Star Wives day because she thought the American public should know that there are people who continue to die from service-connected disabilities.
"It doesn't matter which war, how new a widow they are, or how old a widow they are," Drew explained. "When you talk to our members, you don't have to explain yourself when you start crying. They don't expect you to apologize. They don't tell you to get over it."
"We are an organization of people who have suffered terrible loss and continue onward. And we can share our strengths when we need to share our strengths," Drew said.
Gold Star spouses volunteer at Veterans hospitals and Veterans clinics and at other organizations where they live. Through their continued presence, the word gets out that the organization exists to help.
"We have brochures that are put into packets that go out to the casualty offices, but they aren't looked at right away. A lot of our communication is through word of mouth. And in the age of the Internet, people contact us through our website.
"I had a World War II vet with 100-percent disability contact me. He wanted to be sure his wife would be taken care of after he passes on," Drew said.
Currently, Gold Star Wives work for improved benefits for all surviving spouses and their children, such as: increased Dependency and Indemnity Compensation for all recipients, improved health and pharmacy benefits, retention of DIC benefits after age 55 if remarried, and elimination of the DIC offset which now decreases the amount they should receive through the Survivors Benefit Program.
"We have 10,000 members. We never hope for new members, but we welcome all who are eligible. But every time we get a new member, it means someone has died and it's sad," Drew said. "We now have a larger percentage of surviving spouses than we've had in earlier wars, because the volunteer Army has more married Active Duty members than during previous wars."
"We would love to see the last Gold Star wife die without ever needing this organization again. But that's probably never going to happen," Drew said.
To find out more about Gold Star Wives, Inc., visit their webpage at www.goldstarwives.org