Nine women were named honorary Miss Americas on Sunday night in an emotional ceremony to honor the wives of fallen military service members.

The ceremony took place prior to the televised Miss America Competition as members of the audience took their seats inside Boardwalk Hall. Crowds armed with signs of support for their favorite contestants poured into the hall, many dressed in elegant, sparkling evening wear.

Miss America Organization CEO Sam Haskell and Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan told the story of each family and their loved ones — members of the Navy, Army and Marines — who died while serving overseas. The audience rose to its feet as each honoree was introduced.

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The ceremony was called Project Gratitude.

“It’s an opportunity for them to step out of reality for a little while,” said Kathleen Gagg, executive director of the Got Your Back network, a sponsor of the program.

Miss America 1985 Sharlene Hawkes Wells started the project with Darcy Hansen.

The nine women honored came from all parts of the country along with their children to Atlantic City. Mike Fleiss, executive producer of “The Bachelor,” and Miss America Laura Kaeppler helped get the women here, and Caesars Entertainment provided hotel stays and pampering at its spas.

On Sunday, each of the women and their daughters was invited onstage with several former Miss Americas. The women were then named honorary Miss Americas for life.

Gagg said the event is a small way to recognize their losses and say thank you.

“I think it's important to recognize their great sacrifices,” Gagg said.

Gagg said the families appreciate the recognition, knowing that their loss has not been forgotten.

“We just want to give back to these families,” she said. “They are the most gracious people. It means so much to these families.”

“We are truly honored to help host Project Gratitude, and support these incredible military families who have given our country the ultimate sacrifice,” said Haskell. “They have touched our hearts, and they continue to inspire us to remember the true spirit of America.”

Before the televised competition began, nearly 30 former Miss Americas were introduced to the crowd. They honored Haskell with a plaque crediting him with bringing the competition back to Atlantic City. Haskell was the organization’s board president when the move was announced in February. He was also named CEO when Art McMaster stepped down from the position.

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Five years as Ocean County bureau chief, 12 years as regional news editor (not continuous), 10 years as copy editor (also not continuous), all at The Press of Atlantic City.

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