Army seeks greater awareness for "Gold Star" wives

By Mr. William Bradner (FMWRC)July 31, 2014

The Gold Star Survivor pins
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"It's heartbreaking to think of someone asking 'what a beautiful pin, where can I get one?'" said Gold Star Wife Donna Engeman.

"We need to ensure the nation--the world--recognizes what that pin really signifies," she continued.

April 5, 2014, has been designated by Congress as "Gold Star Wives Day." The intent is to publically recognize the sacrifices made by our service members in support of our nation.

Though the official designation of the Gold Star Wives Day is relatively new, the gold star has officially been recognized as a symbol of loss since 1918.

Throughout the First World War, families would hang blue service stars in their windows to indicate that their loved ones were serving in the war effort. By 1918, it became common practice to pin a gold star over the blue star to indicate that their service member had died. President Wilson also authorized mothers to wear a gold star on the traditional black mourning band to signify their loss was war-related in 1918.

During the Second World War, service flags and what they represented were standardized and codified by Congress. In April of 1945, a non-profit group calling themselves "Gold Star Wives of America" filed incorporation paperwork signed by Eleanor Roosevelt. Less than two years later Congress approved the design, manufacture and distribution of the Gold Star Label Pin to be presented to surviving family members of those who died in that conflict.

Though service flags and Gold Star pins fell out of favor in the sixties, in 1973 the Army approved a lapel pin to be worn by those who lost their lives while serving on active duty but not in combat operations.

The rise of patriotism and pride in service after September 11 brought about a resurgence of the use of both the blue and gold stars in flags, bumper and window stickers and lapel pins.

But it's not enough, said Engeman, who manages the Survivor Outreach Services program for the Army.

During World War II, more than 16 million people served in the war effort overseas, and most of the country supported the war effort through rationing, victory gardens, war bonds, and other public displays of support.

Only 2.5 million service members have deployed during the war on terror; less that 1 percent of the American population. While service flags can be readily found in windows in the residential areas on military installations, it's rare to see them in mainstream America.

To help raise awareness, the Army has produced a series of public service announcements describing the significance of Gold Star pins. The PSAs will be released over the course of the year, to expand awareness efforts beyond a single day proclaimed by Congress.

The Army, recognizing that families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice deserve our respect, gratitude and the very best we can provide, created Survivor Outreach Services to provide long-term support services and family case management for surviving families. A program in the G9, Family and MWR Services Directorate of the Installation Management Command, SOS is integral to the Army's support system and casualty notification office.

"Our support service coordinators and financial counselors are dedicated to helping survivors from all eras understand--and apply for--the benefits they're entitled to" said Hal Snyder, chief of IMCOM's Wounded and Fallen Support Services Office. "We also help them stay connected to the Army family for as long as they desire."

SOS currently supports more than 55,900 surviving military family members, and is spearheading the effort to raise awareness through the PSAs.

"We're committed to our survivors," said Lt. Gen. Mike Ferriter, IMCOM commander. "So educating the public on the meaning behind the gold star pins is simply another way to reaffirm that we honor and understand the sacrifices they've made for our country."

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