Today is Gold Star Wives Day, the day our nation recognizes the hardships and sacrifices of the wives of U.S. Armed Forces members who lost their lives in combat. On Dec. 18, 2010, Congress named the first Gold Star Wives Day, which continues to be observed annually on April 5.
While all Gold Star Wives are valued members of the U.S. Navy family, the U.S. Pacific Surface Fleet has a small number of exceptional women who have taken on an additional distinguished role in Navy history as a ship’s sponsor. Every ship in the Navy has at least one sponsor – sometimes more – selected by the Secretary of the Navy. The sponsor’s role is a significant one as they will participate in life milestones of the ship and create a lasting bond with the ship and crew through ceremonies like christening, commissioning and later, once the ship’s active service life is over, decommissioning.
Betty Ann Fitzgerald, widow of Lieutenant William Charles Fitzgerald, is the sponsor of USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62). Lieutenant Fitzgerald was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic, loyal, and selfless actions while providing a safe escape for his personnel during Vietnam.
Birgit Smith, widow of Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, is the sponsor of USS Freedom (LCS 1). Sergeant First Class Smith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He exposed himself to open fire while holding off the enemy to allow wounded soldiers to be safely evacuated from the battlefield.
Lieutenant Colonel Robin L. Higgins (Ret.), widow of Colonel William Rich Higgins, is the sponsor of USS Higgins (DDG 76). Colonel Higgins was taken hostage by pro-Iranian terrorists in Lebanon in 1988 and later murdered. Since then, she has become a speaker on surviving adversity and terrorism, and author of the book, Patriot Dreams- The Murder of Colonel Rich Higgins. She’s also a former Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Navy is committed to providing long term assistance to surviving family members through means like the Navy Gold Star Program. As we recognize Gold Star Wives Day, please take a moment to honor all Gold Star spouses and families. It is because of service member’s sacrifices and heroism that our nation continues to be great.