FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A Fort Wayne woman whose husband died serving our country in 2022 joined the governor Monday to reveal a new license plate design that honors fallen service members and their families.
Lauren Tomkiewicz, the widow of Capt. Matthew J. Tomkiewicz, unveiled the new design for the state’s Gold Star Family license plate with Gov. Eric Holcomb in Indianapolis.
Captain Tomkiewicz was 27 when the aircraft he was in crashed during a training exercise in Norway, killing him and three other Marines on March 18, 2022.
“Today was a special way to remember Captain Matthew Tomkiewicz as we welcomed Lauren Tomkiewicz and family to the office to reveal the new Gold Star Family license plate,” Holcomb said Monday in a Facebook post. “This new design is a better representation of what it means to be a Gold Star family.”
Lauren Tomkiewicz sat down with WANE 15 on Wednesday to talk about why she pushed for a change to the plates.
She said most people don’t know what a Gold Star Family is and she wanted to help educate those who don’t.
A Gold Star Family is the family of a service member who was killed or died due to their military service for our country.
Looking at the current plates, Lauren felt there were no context clues about what a Gold Star Family is. When she was speaking with a Gold Star mom about wanted to change the plates, that mom shared an experience with Lauren where she was in a parking lot and someone saw her plate and said “Oh, gold star. Aren’t you special.”
That mom then had to explain to the stranger that she had to bury her son at Arlington National Cemetery and it wasn’t a gold star that one would get for doing a good job on a spelling test.
Ultimately, Lauren felt compelled to see a change. This past Memorial Day, she went to the 500 Festival in Indianapolis because she knew Governor Holcomb might be there.
He was. She said she approached him with the idea and he was all for it.
“His office then worked with the BMV. They reached out to veteran’s service organizations and they got input from them. That ultimately led to the final product” she explained.
Kevin Garvey, the Chief of Staff for the Indiana BMV, told WANE 15 that the Gold Star Family plate hadn’t been redesigned in about a decade. Not getting feedback often, the plate was designed without hearing from Gold Star Families or other Veteran groups.
“This was a really a great opportunity for us to hear from somebody who is impacted directly by having this license plate,” Garvey said. “I think Lauren’s mission was so much bigger than just, ‘hey, I’d like the design to look a little bit different.’ It was truly about ‘how do we educate people on what this plate means.’ And so, that was a really special opportunity for us to get to be a part of that.”
The new license plate design reads “Some gave all. Honoring our fallen hero.” and now has a folded American flag.
Lauren told WANE 15 that unveiling them was an exciting moment. She’s thankful for the Governor believing in her and that he and his staff were so kind to her.
She loved that her entire family was there with her.
“It was exciting that both of my parents and my in-laws and my brother-in-law were able to be there because they’re all proud of me, and I know Matt was there,” Lauren said.
On top of educating fellow Hoosiers on the road, Lauren said she hopes that other roughly 200 Gold Star Family members with these plates in Indiana will be proud to display the new license plates.
“I know it’s really small, but the meaning behind it is so powerful, and if anything could from this, I hope other Indiana Gold Star Families are proud that their license plate shows that they did make the ultimate sacrifice, that they’re being honored respectfully and honorably because I do feel like we do owe them everything because they made the ultimate sacrifice,” Lauren said.
She’s excited to have her new Gold Star Plate on her car when they’ve available in January of next year, even if it is still bittersweet.
“Everything that I do, I want to keep his legacy alive,” she said. “It’s a way our families can honor his service and his sacrifice. I will be so excited to get my official plate and have it on my car and drive around. At the end of the day, if one person looks at my license plate and puts together ‘Oh, she’s a [Gold Star Family member] and her loved one made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, then my job is done.”
“I’m proud of him, and I miss him, and I love him, and I know, I know he’s looking down and is exceptionally proud of me for what I continue to do. Anything I can do to represent Gold Star Families, I’ll do it.”
The family of Tomkiewicz created a memorial fund* in his honor that can be found here.
Learn more about the significance of Gold Star Families here.
*WANE.com does not assure that the monies or donations deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a donation, you should consult your own advisers and otherwise proceed at your own risk.