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 a soon to be war widow, Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt later wrote in her news column, My Day,  “…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… 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 missing in action  by 1945.

These five young widows had first met together in Marie Jordan’s apartment in New York City in 1945 to talk about how they might band together to support the needs of all war widows and their children. Losing a spouse in combat meant also losing income, medical care, commissary privileges and even a place to live if they lived in military housing. Most had married young and had no job training. They had little or no resources from the U.S. government and often relied on the charity of family and friends. Out of desperation they formed a support group called the American Widows of WWII.

 Their appeal to Mrs. Roosevelt was auspicious. When FDR died in 1946, she counted herself among them and became one of the original signers of the group’s charter. The name was changed to Gold Star Wives of America in 1948 (GSW) and the mission expanded to seek benefits for both the spouses and children of persons who died in combat and/or as a result of service-connected illness.

Members of Gold Star Wives participate in a memorial sevice

Today there are more than 7,000 active members of Gold Star Wives and approximately 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 who feel obliged to enter a different battle; to continue to protect the pensions, rights and privileges of all survivors. The organization is not limited to women. Qualified spouse of any gender are welcome.

Currently there are local chapters in all parts of the United States, and members-at-large throughout the world. The organization is primarily supported by membership dues and by the legacies of several thankful members.

It is a busy organization with many opportunities to participate and become connected with kindred souls. A legislative committee continuously monitors the status of legislation relative to pensions, medical insurance, education and VA home loans.  GSW members search out other survivors who may not know about their eligibility for benefits. However, membership is not required to receive benefits from the government as a survivor. They exist as the guardian of benefits for all eligible spouses and children.

At a National Board meeting of GSW held in Denver in 2015, I was one of  several Vietnam War widows who were acknowledged 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 “sisters” from all wars wearing the organization’s signature gold color, I thought of those five women so recently bereaved back in 1945 who had the courage to say: “We will survive” One of those women is now in her nineties and continues to be involved in the Gold Star Wives organization.

Vietnam Memorial

Ruth W. Crocker at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC

Because of what makes us a group, I dream that someday the reason for our existence will become extinct and we will no longer need such an organization. Until then, we will continue the battle to remain visible for the sake of all who have the misfortune to become “survivors.”



Ruth W. Crocker is the author of Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War. Visit her at