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Widow Of Fallen Soldier Won’t Give Up Fighting For Recognition

by Jean Ann Esselink on September 10, 2013

in DOMA,Jean Ann Esselink,News

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It’s been almost a year since Sgt. Donna Johnson was killed by a suicide bomber in Khost, Afghanistan. Donna’s wife, Tracy Dice Johnson said she knew the morning it happened. Donna hadn’t called at the time she had promised she would. A search of the net led to the report of an attack in Khost. When she discovered the spouses of other soldiers in Donna’s unit were also unable to contact their loved one, Tracy knew. The unit was on lock down. There had been casualties. No one would be able to communicate with the outside world until the next-of-kin had been notified.

That notification should have been made to Tracy. She and Donna had been legally married on Valentine’s Day 2012, in Washington D.C., after five happy years together. But in October of 2012, the U.S. Army didn’t recognize same-sex spouses, so the notice went to Donna’s mother. Tracy’s notification came by phone from her sister-in-law.

Tracy was allowed to take part in the funeral of her wife, only because she had her mother-in-law’s approval. The wedding ring she gave Donna was not returned to her. She was not allowed to apply for the $1200 monthly benefit she would have been eligible for, had Donna been a man.  But what Tracy wanted most, and still wants today, is to have Donna’s death certificate changed to read: “married”.

Tracy, who is herself a sergeant in the North Carolina National Guard, and the survivor of five bomb attacks during her fifteen month tour of duty in Iraq, has been battling the Army for a year now to have that death certificate corrected. She had hopes when DOMA fell that the army would change its policy, but as of today, the Army still hasn’t budged.

Tracy-Donna-2Now, the Pentagon, the Attorney General, and President Obama himself, have directed that same-sex military couples be treated the same way heterosexual couples are. Monday, North Carolina’s National Guard announced that, unlike Texas, which has refused to comply, they will follow the Pentagon directive and allow same-sex spouses to apply for benefits, even though North Carolina does not recognize same-sex marriages.

With the favorable announcement from the National Guard, Tracy has renewed her fight to change Donna’s death certificate from “single” to “married”. She is once again haunting Survivor Outreach Services at Fort Bragg to see if this new policy is enough to finally grant Tracy her request.

Tracy’s hopes are high. “For me, this is a huge step forward compared to where we were a year ago.” She told the Fayetteville Observer. She’s not in it for the notoriety. She’s not in it for the check. She’s fighting for the recognition she deserves, for the truth of Donna’s life. She’s fighting for the memory her wife, the woman she loved.

It’s such an insignificant request: change one word on a legal form. But the more you consider it, the more it will stagger you with its importance: “List my wife as married.” 

It is not such an insignificant request at all, is it?


Couples Photo: Military Partners Association Facebook


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