BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (KMSP) - This summer, the Gold Star Wives will hold its national convention in the Twin Cities. As Memorial Day approaches, the organization that tends to the needs of those who have lost a spouse to a military-related death shares a message for anyone suffering in silence: you're not alone.
Crystal Wenum’s husband, Staff Sgt. James O. Wenum, died of a heart attack while he was on active duty with his reserve unit in 1982. The Vietnam veteran not only left behind a wife, but also two young children.
“There’s always grief there, but it changes because daily life gets involved,” said Crystal Wenum.
Decades ago, Wenum found support through the Gold Star Wives. Now, the 67-year-old Hudson-Wisconsin resident proudly dons the gold cap, serving as the national president of the organization, which boasts nearly 7,000 members.
“We are there to support the widows and surviving spouses,” said Wenum.
But she says over the years she’s noticed a shift.
“With our population getting older a lot of the chapters are kind of falling into disarray and not being really super active,” she said.
The organization, she says, is becoming more open.
“Now that we’ve got women who are dying in combat or in active duty we’ve also reached out to some of the men to see if they would like to join,” she said.
In July, Gold Star Wives will hold its national convention in the Twin Cities. On this Memorial Day, Wenum will head to the Washington D.C., as she reflects on those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Her thoughts are also with those who may suffer in silence.
“My message is you don’t have to suffer alone,” said Wenum. “There are people out there who definitely can help you.”
The organization has been vocal in its fight for legislative change to help provide widows with compensation increases and stronger benefit plans. The 73rd annual Gold Star Wives of America convention will take place July 17 through July 22 at the Crowne Plaza Aire Hotel in Bloomington.