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Gold Star Wives and Armed Forces DayPosted Tuesday, May 17, 2011, at 12:20 PM
On Saturday we honor our military men and women on Armed Forces Day, and rightly so.
They deserve our gratitude and respect, as they serve in wartime and peace.
But I want to consider the families behind these soldiers, especially the wives.
I identify with these wives because I was one of them for 20 years while my husband served in the United States Air Force.
The majority of people don't identify with the military unless they have a son, daughter, husband, brother or other relative who serve.
I belong to an organization called Gold Star Wives of America. There are 10,000 members. Some of them keep in touch through online forums created just for them..They are widows whose husbands died while on active duty or as the result of a service connected cause..They represent all branches of service.
We widows exchange information concerning benefits, education, health and legislative issues.
Some of the communications are sad. It might be a young widow whose husband recently died in battle in Afghanistan.
She is grieving and doesn't know where to turn. Gold Star Wives lend encouragement, sympathy, and understanding.
Nancy, a new member, emailed, "My husband was a Marine in Vietnam and served 13 years, but was shot and killed in the National Guard in 1984. "Our stories are all somewhat different, yet somehow all the same," she said.
Judi wrote," My Billy served in Korea, Siapan, Japan and Guam. He died in 1983 after years of illness."
Many of the widows were longtime caretakers for their retired military husbands.
A member who joined the organization one year ago, wrote, "My husband was a Vietnam veteran. He served in the Navy and the inland waterways and rivers in Vietnam. He enlisted at 17.
She continued, "Sadly, in 1998 the signs of Agent Orange related illness set in. From there it was a slow decline from a 6' l", 225 pounds to a living skeleton who could not walk. He was too young to die. He felt no bitterness, he loved his country and he said he did his duty. I will carry the loss of my husband within my heart until I sleep beside him," she said.
And those stories go on and on as the wives share their stories and their grief.
Many of the widows have taken leadership roles in the organization and they bombard the Capitol with Gold Star Wives issues.
But now I'm thinking of those wives whose husbands are serving today in the military, both stateside and overseas.
Those wives must be the head of the house while their husbands are away. It is the wife who pays the bills, puts gas in the car, kisses the skinned knees and takes over day to day responsibilities. She must be both mom and dad while families endure separations, sometimes for months on end. Coupled with that, she may be a working mom.
My husband, Bill, was a boom operator on the KC-135 air refueling tanker that supplied fuel midair to fighters and B-52 bombers. He flew many missions over Vietnam. He didn't die on active duty but died of a service related illness.
He was away from home sometimes for four months while I was left alone. I could not count the times when he was away on holidays or special occasions because he was flying missions elsewhere. Oftentimes he was not there to share Christmases or anniversaries or other special times. But I was there representing both of us.
It was a lonesome time when he was away because I was living far away from my hometown and family members.
The military became my family away from home and I made many friends.
And so, I write this not to take anything away from our veterans or those serving our country, but just to recognize those spouses who keep the home fires burning.
They sacrifice too.
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