ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Mothers whose sons were killed while serving in the military will be honoured this weekend as part of the Miss America competition.
The Miss America Organization, the Got Your Back Network, Caesars Entertainment and others will host nine Gold Star mothers as honorary Miss Americas on Sunday in Atlantic City. Three others also will be honoured but can't make it to the ceremony.
They'll be put up and pampered at casinos, will meet with Pentagon officials and will be honoured onstage at Boardwalk Hall before the nationally televised finale begins.
Among them will be Eileen Daly, of Brick, New Jersey, whose son Sgt. Ronald Kubik was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 and who posthumously was awarded the Silver Star.
"I am so grateful to this group for honouring my son and giving me the opportunity to go to Atlantic City," Daly told The Associated Press. "It comforts me so much to know that our fallen heroes are not forgotten for the sacrifice our sons and daughters made to give their lives for this country."
Her son was 21 when he died, an Army Ranger leading an assault team in Logar Province, Afghanistan. His mother said Kubik saved the lives of 10 fellow soldiers and 19 civilians on the day he was killed.
The mothers will stay at Caesars casino in Atlantic City. After breakfast Sunday, they will be given spa time, will have their hair and makeup done, will meet with military officials travelling from the Pentagon for the ceremony and will be brought onstage by former Miss Americas during the preshow activities, which are not televised.
They will be given commemorative bracelets, will talk about their sons and will be named honorary Miss Americas for life.
"There's a lot of healing that takes place," said Kathleen Gagg, executive director of Got Your Back, which supports Gold Star families. "These women belong to a sorority that no one ever wants to be a part of."
Dubbed "Project Gratitude," the event has honoured about 130 women in the nine years it has been operating.
The women to be honoured include four from Florida: Michele Marie Carey, of Oldster; Catherine Grace del Castillo, of Tampa; Margaret Eggers, of Cape Coral; and Jill Stephenson, of St. Petersburg. The others are Frances Ann Lee, of Fort Wright, Kentucky; Laura Gonzalez, of Indianapolis; Xiomara Edith Mena, of Falls Church, Virginia; Paula Rena Davis, of Frederick, Maryland; and three other New Jersey residents in addition to Daly: Amy Moore, of Robbinsville; Lucinda Malmo, of Red Bank, and Jacqueline Dixon, of Lindenwold.
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Wayne Parry, The Associated Press