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Higgins attends ceremony honoring Gwen & Henry Colon

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Mon, Apr 23rd 2018 12:25 pm
Pair served in US Navy for combined 35 years
Congressman Brian Higgins participated in a tribute to a married couple whose members both served in the U.S. Navy. Gwen Colon (pronounced: Cologne) was presented with military service medals she and her late-husband, Henry, earned during a combined 35 years of military service.
Patriot Guard Riders also made a special presentation.
During the ceremony honoring the Colons, Higgins said, "May these medals provide current and future generations with a lasting reminder of your combined dedication to our country and commitment to each other. Your selfless spirit, tireless work ethic and strong resolve serves as an inspiration to others."
Gwen's military interest dates back to childhood, inspired by her father's service to join the Navy. William McKinley Hawkins served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-48, during World War II. Upon his return, he worked at the VA Medical Center in Buffalo.
Today, his name is featured on the African American Veterans of Western New York exhibit located at the Frank E. Merriweather Library. He was recognized at the Day of Honor along with others who fought in World War II, and presented with the Certificate of Achievement for Conspicuous Service.
Henry and Gwen had quite a journey together in the Navy. He joined the Navy in 1974 and she enlisted in 1979. They first met on June 9, 1980, at the Navy Exchange. Days later, they went on their first date and, within four months, Gwen said she knew Henry would be the man she would marry.
Henry and Gwen's military service took them across the country, from California to Virginia, and Florida to Mississippi. Gwen's assignments also took her overseas to Naples, Italy, and throughout the Mediterranean. While it was always a challenge to be stationed in separate locations throughout their time in the military, Gwen and Henry always found a way to be together.
Henry and Gwen were married in 1987 and began to grow their family with the birth of a child in 1989. During that time, the two served together at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station in Puerto Rico. In September of 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit the island and Gwen brought their son back to her parents' home in Buffalo until it was safe to return to Puerto Rico.
After 16 years of service, Gwen was honorably discharged from the Navy and began civilian life working as a paralegal for a prominent attorney. Henry, meanwhile, served as company commander at the Recruit Training Center in Orlando.
Then, in January of 1999, Gwen returned home to Buffalo, where she again followed in her father's footsteps, to serve veterans as an employee at the Buffalo VA Medical Center.
Her commitment to excellence has been consistently unwavering both in service to the country and to the community. While working at the VA, she received a letter of commendation from the president for her handling of an urgent situation.
Gwen lost her beloved husband in 2002. Seven years later, she retired from the Buffalo VA Medical Center, but never stopped advocating for veterans and their families. Gwen began volunteering for the Patriot Guard Riders in 2015 and continues today to embody their motto: "Standing for Those Who Stood for U.S."
Henry and Gwen collectively served in the military for 35 years. He served from 1974-93, while she served from 1979-95. While in the Navy, they rose a combined 11 ranks, Henry reaching the rank radioman first class and Gwen earning the rank yeoman second class.
U.S. Navy Lt. Jamie-Lynn Smerka presented shadow boxes containing Gwen and Henry's medals to the Colon family.
For his 19 years of service in the U.S. Navy, Henry's family was presented with:
  • Good Conduct Medal with two bronze stars
  • Navy Expeditionary Medal with one bronze star
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with one bronze star
  • Humanitarian Service Medal
  • Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Ribbon with one bronze star
  • Navy Sea Deployment Ribbon with one bronze star
  • United States Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation with Distinguished Device
Gwen Colon was presented with the following:
  • Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal
  • Meritorious Unit Commendation
  • Good Conduct Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Humanitarian Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps
  • Overseas Service Ribbon with one bronze star
  • United States Coast Guard Special Operation Service Ribbon
  • New York State Medal for Merit

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