They are often the forgotten people in war, but never in its remembrance – the wives and families of those fallen in military service.
Since its founding in 1945 at the end of World War II, Gold Star Wives of America, the wives of those who died in combat, has been providing emotional and practical support to those families.
Now Gold Star Wives are reaching out to help honor and acknowledge another often forgotten military contingent, veterans of the Vietnam War, as a commemorative partner in the U.S.A. Vietnam War Commemoration. GSW Denver Chapter member Jeanette Bearly is a member of the commemoration’s national coordinating committee.
“It was such a terrible time with such negativity. No one wanted to talk about the war,” said Bearly of the Vietnam War years. “Many veterans still bear emotional wounds. We want to move beyond that negative mindset and truly express thanks and gratitude for their service and commitment.
The national commemoration was established by Congress in 2007 in a bill signed into law by President George W. Bush. The commemoration began with a presidential inaugural event at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day, 2012. It continues through 2025.
The primary objective is to thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families on behalf of the nation for their service and sacrifice. Much of that effort takes place through commemorative partners such as GSW – local, state and national organizations and businesses that have committed to honor Vietnam veterans through personal outreach and recognition events.
The Commemoration uses the term "Vietnam Veteran" to describe those who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time during the period of November 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, regardless of location.
The Denver Chapter of GSW has hosted two commemorative ceremonies honoring Vietnam War veterans, and anticipates hosting more in the coming months. The chapter is reaching out to area schools and churches to help locate veterans.
Bearly’s husband, Sgt. 1 st Class Howard Lee Bearly, died in Vietnam in 1969. She carries a pocket-full on commemorative pins to present on the spot to any Vietnam veteran she meets.
“As a chapter, we want to greet our veterans personally, to say thank you in person,” Bearly said.
The Denver GSW Chapter also represents its members and families at all events at Fort Logan National Cemetery and at the State Capitol. The organization also reaches out with emotional support and information to bereaved families. Information on benefits, educational opportunities and health issues is helpful, Bearly said. “Often issues arise years after a spouse has died.”
Bearly became involved with Gold Star Wives when she attended its annual conventional in Atlanta in 1974.
“It was so wonderful,” she said. “I found a group that knew what I needed after my husband died, and people I could talk to who understood.”
Bearly has since served GSW as Southwest Region president and national president. She is now the group’s national chaplain in addition to representing GSW on commemoration’s national coordinating committee.
[Photo of Janette Bearly courtesy of Carol Lynn Tiegs]