Bonnie Carroll, founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her longstanding efforts to provide support to the families of fallen service members, the White House announced Monday.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made "especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," according to a White House press release.
Carroll is one of 17 recipients who will be honored at the White House on Nov. 24. Among the others are baseball legends Willie Mays and the late Yogi Berra, conductor Itzhak Perlman, lyricist/composer Stephen Sondheim, director Steven Spielberg, singer/songwriter James Taylor, NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, and Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
Carroll, a retired Air Force Reserve major, founded TAPS after her husband, Army Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in Alaska in 1992, and she found few resources for surviving families.
TAPS provides compassionate care in a variety of ways to those grieving the death of a loved one who died while serving in the military. It provides a national peer support network and connection to grief resources, all at no cost to surviving families and loved ones.
"Bonnie has selflessly devoted her life to caring for survivors. It's her passion, her life. She's dedicated to this over and above herself. She's a true example of sacrifice," said Kim Ruocco, TAPS' chief external relations officer for suicide prevention and postvention.
Ruocco noted that Carroll built TAPS from scratch into an organization that enfolds more than 60,000 survivors.
"She's a hero to all of us who work with her ... an inspiration," Ruocco said. "She's a true American hero. She doesn't do it to be acknowledged, she does it because it's needed and it makes a difference in people's lives."
In announcing the recipients, President Obama said he looks forward to presenting "these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation's highest civilian honor."
"From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans."
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.