Patricia Barbee will salute other women like her on Saturday.
“I’m going to have my cup of tea and hoist it high,” said the Gold Star Wife and North Bryan resident who, like thousands of other women across the country, lost her husband during wartime.
Congress dedicated Dec. 18 as Gold Star Wives Day, a day to honor and recognize those widowed as a result of armed conflict or active military duty. Saturday is first official day of national recognition for Gold Star Wives of America, a national organization of those who lost their military spouses.
The resolution to designate Dec. 18 as Gold Start Wives Day was introduced in September by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
“Gold Star Wives Day is an important day where we can reflect upon the strength and selflessness of the Gold Star Wives and recognize that they continue to do important work under extremely difficult circumstances,” Burr said in a written statement. “We can never repay these volunteers for the sacrifices they’ve made, but we can let them know that we appreciate and recognize their patriotism and service.”
Gold Star Wives of America was founded in 1945 with the help of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, according to the association’s website. The association now boasts around 10,000 members in 26 states, and its mission is to “provide service, support and friendship to the widows and widowers of military personnel who died on active duty or as the result of a service connected cause.”
Saturday is the 65th anniversary of the incorporation of the Gold Star Wives, according to the Senate resolution.
Some Gold Star Wives said the recognition is significant.
“It means a lot,” said Lessaline Jones, the president of the Atlanta chapter of the Gold Star Wives of America. “It gives us recognition that we normally don’t get.”
Jones lost her husband, Milton Jones, in 1945. He served in the Army during World War II.
Barbee, Gold Star Wives member-at-large of the Southeast region, said the recognition is a long time coming.
“It’s about time,” she said.
Barbee lost her husband, Marine Sgt. John W. Barbee, during the Vietnam conflict in 1968, just two years after she married him. She recalled her husband’s funeral, saying his body was sealed in glass and the Marines would not let her touch him.
“All I wanted to do was touch his button on his uniform,” she said.
Barbee has never been able to organize a group locally during the 33 years since she moved from New Jersey to Bryan County. Widowed in her 20s, Barbee said she has a long history with the Gold Star Wives, founding a chapter in New Jersey, organizing the group’s annual convention one year and serving as president of the Mid-Atlantic regional chapter of the association.
Barbee, a writer whose work has appeared in “Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul,” is active in Bryan County, most recently participating in Wreaths for Warriors ceremony Saturday of Fort Stewart and in Pembroke.
On Fort Stewart, where she gladly volunteers her support to military families there, Barbee said she’s called “Ma Stewart” or “Mother Stewart” by personnel there.
“They say it with love,” she said.
For other Gold Star Wives out there, Barbee told them to be selfish with their time and to look after themselves and their children.
“It’s important for them to take care of themselves,” she said.