SEATTLE- The Gold Star Wives of America, Inc. held their 69th annual convention here to elect new leadership and board members July 19.
Just as importantly, they gathered to welcome new members and remember their fallen loved ones.
GSW members have one thing in common – they have lost a spouse, husband or wife who died while serving on active duty or as a result of a service-connected illness or disability.
“As an organization our mission is to continue the work started by a small group of women in 1945,” said Harriet Boyden, GSW president. “We serve, support and provide friendship to the widow or widower of those who died because of their service in the military.”
Boyden added that since 1945, the primary mission of the GSW is to provide services, support and friendship to those who have lost a military spouse and through shared experiences, gain strength to comfort the unique challenges of the families of fallen heroes.
Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, commanding general, I Corps at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was on hand to thank the members of the GSW for their service and continued support of the U.S. Army. He also told the assembled crowd of 100 that their loved ones would not be forgotten.
“I ask those that have served and those who are continuing to serve, that you remember the fallen,” said Lanza. “As you put on the uniform remember those that have come before you, because those that have come before you, allow us to do what we do today.”
Gold Star Wives of America, Inc., was formed by a small group of World War II widows. Since then Gold Star Wives has grown to a national, non-profit organization chartered by Congress with over 8,000 Gold Star members.
The organization volunteers on military bases, in VA hospitals and clinics, at events for survivors and veterans in local communities.
Members participate in ceremonies honoring survivors and veterans; work at the local, state and national levels to keep and enhance the benefits for survivors. More importantly, it is a chance for spouses of this nation’s fallen to come together with those who understand their pain.
“Families who lost their loved ones don’t quite know how to communicate or they just had so much grief, but through that unity that you have, you are able to help each other,” said Mary Forbes, assistant director of the Veteran Services and Behavioral Health Services Division, Washington Department of Veteran Affairs. “Over the last six years I have seen families at the beginning of their grieving and how they have grown through the help of this organization.”
“We had one lady come from Bainbridge Island to this and she gets a newsletter and heard about the convention and came to the event,” added Arlene Murray, Tahoma Chapter president. “This is her first convention and she said she would be coming to our [future] meetings because this is the first place she has felt like she was surrounded by people who understand what she’s been through.”
According to Lanza, many Soldiers know about the GSW of America and all they do for spouses of those who have fallen. However, he added, this message must be heard by more than just service member and their families.
“We need to make sure your message gets out, not just in the military community, but to our nation,” he said. “You are indeed the heart of this organization, but more importantly you are the heart behind the shield of those who serve. As you have stood by your loved ones, we will continue to stand by you.”