Queens Borough Hall commemorates Gold Star Spouses Day with heartfelt ceremony honoring military widows

Members of the Gold Star Wives organization are honored at Queens Borough Hall.
Courtesy of Athena Dawson

It was a solemn day at Queens Borough Hall, as veterans and local government leaders honored the surviving spouses of deceased military members in honor of Gold Star Spouses Day, which is observed on Apr. 5th each year. 

Dozens of people gathered at Queens Borough Hall on Apr. 4th for a touching ceremony honoring members of the Gold Star Wives of America Inc.(GSW) organization.

The women wore matching yellow caps, and yellow and purple outfits, adorned with brooches and gold star pins in recognition of the military service of their late husbands.

The ceremony began with an invocation, followed by the reciting of the ‘Pledge of Allegiance,’ and a bagpipe performance of ‘America The Beautiful’ by an FDNY firefighter.

Airforce JROTC members from Aviation Highschool also performed a flag ceremony at the event.

Following the performances, a veteran recited a poem reflecting on the sacrifices of soldiers declared Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing In Action (MIA). The veteran also alluded to a table set in the corner of the room, adorned with a flower, a tea cup, and a lemon wedge, representing that those soldiers will always have a metaphorical ‘ seat at the table.’

 Local government leaders and veterans gathered to honor the wives at Thursday’s Salute to Gold Star Spouses event. Courtesy of Athena Dawson

The women honored at Thursday’s ceremony included Christine D. Chojnicki, Mid-Atlantic regional president of GSW, Abigail Curry, Mary Gallagher, president of the NYC Chapter of GSW and Dr. Mecca Nelson, Chaplin for the NYC Chapter  of GSW. The other honorees included Tanya L. Wilson-Thomas, GSW’s national secretary, U.S. Army veteran Pamela Connors, and Cyndy Hollender-Stancliff.

Many of the honorees took time to give touching speeches about the impact the loss of their husbands had on their lives. 

“What brings me here is the noble service of my husband Dwight Anthony Thomas Sr.. Dwight was an electrician by trade and he did that in the marine corps, and he was proud of his service to this country,” Wilson-Thomas said. Wilson-Thomas lost her husband Dwight Anthony Sr., a U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant. 

Tanya L. Wilson Thomas, GSW’s national secretary, speaks at the event. Courtesy of Athena Dawson

Gallagher also gave an emotional speech about her late husband, USMC Gunnery Sgt. James F. Gallagher, who passed away in 2006. She said that following her husband’s death she made it her mission to bring awareness to those who have lost loved ones to suicide. “ The incidents that have brought us together are not good, but bittersweet. Let us continue to work together to make a difference for all of our surviving military families, spouses, and wives. Let’s do this together,” she said.

Council Member Vickie Paladino (District 19), spoke at the event, saying that the wives in attendance are forgotten heroes whose sacrifices need to be recognized. “ These are women who are strong.. I can’t imagine what you ladies go through, when your men or women come home beaten and damaged and handicapped. Your sacrifice needs to be recognized. You are no longer forgotten heroes, you truly are heroes, “ she said. Paladino currently presides over the most densely populated veteran districts in New York City.  

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards also gave a brief speech, praising the inspirational courage of the honorees. He announced that he would co-sponsor any City Council  bill put forward to make the spouses of veterans a protected class under New York City’s Human Rights Law. “ The spouses of these heroic military members and veterans are not considered a protected class. Shame on us…that has to change,” he said.

In a touching moment during the ceremony, Nathaniel Hezekiah  III, Deputy Chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, presented Wilson-Thomas with a flag that flew on top of the United States Capitol in June of 2021, in recognition of the loss of her husband. Wilson-Thomas tearfully received the flag, encased in a wooden frame, as the audience burst into applause.

Chojnicki recalled the decades-long history of the organization, created by  a group of grieving World War II widows in New York. “Seventy-Nine years ago in New York, a group of World War II widows sat around a kitchen table discussing the losses of their husbands and the lack of benefits they received. In fact, widows under 25 were told that they were too young to manage their money.  They were awarded only $25 a month for life.. absolutely not enough even back in those days. On April 5th 1945, the first meeting of American Widows of World War II was held,” she said. 

In 1980 the organization received a congressional charter as a national veterans service organization. The organization currently has thousands of members from various war eras including the Vietnam, Korean, Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  The organization works to preserve and enhance benefits of surviving U.S. Military spouses and children.

Towards the end of the ceremony, Richards and the Commissioner of NYC Veteran Services presented a proclamation and citations to the members of GSW. The audience also cheered as the Borough President unveiled a Gold Star Flag that will be displayed outside of Queens Borough Hall. 

Audience cheers as Queens Borough President Donovan Richard’s unveils the Gold Star Flag. Courtesy of Athena Dawson