Thursday, December 31, 2009

MY Heroes of the Year: The families

Diane and Ken Fairben

Todd and Lisa Beamer

Katy Soulas addresses students at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School on Sept. 11. Her husband died in the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Photos by Johanna Ginsberg

Katy Soulas addresses students at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School on Sept. 11. Her husband died in the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.

Photos by Johanna Ginsberg (read more here or here)

Most of us take our families for granted, expecting them to always be here, a part of our lives every day. For the families pictured above, their lives changed forever on September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of 9/11, the loved ones of those above were rightly hailed as heroes. I originally wrote about Diane and Ken's precious son Keith here, and Lisa Beamer's husband Todd became a very visible face of the loss we all suffered. Katy Soulas, mother of six and wife of Tim - also lost on 9/11 - has also been written about here.

What all of these families share, but what I have not seen written about, is that they are all HEROES, every single day. I saw Diane quoted somewhere (or maybe she said it to me ;) ) as saying that heroes are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Looking at those pictures, you could - perhaps - be excused for thinking you are looking at ordinary people, but they ARE heroes. On that morning eight years ago, each of the family members of the 9/11 heroes could have no idea of how the events that unfolded would change their lives. And since that day, Diane and Ken, Lisa Beamer, Katy Soulas and so many more, have daily proved that heroes do always walk among us. Having been priviledged to hear the hearts of Diane and Ken, for instance, I know that none of the families would have chosen to be forever linked to 9/11, but it is how they have chosen to live their lives, in honour of their loved ones, that shows such heroism. In the face of such enormous tragedy and loss, it would have been so easy for them to crawl into a hole and shut out the world, and who could judge them for that? Not I.

A friend of mine said recently that this era of heroism began on 9/11, and so it did, but there are many other heroes in this Global War on Terror. Daniel Pearl's parents are also heroes. Their hearts broke as they watched, with all of us, their son being murdered and that heinous act was broadcast around the world.

Judea and Ruth Pearl formed a foundation to promote those values which Daniel lived.

Check that out here. Many of the family heroes have worked on a daily basis to be a voice for the values that their loved ones lived. To the mainstream media, the heroes we have lost are just statistics, or fodder for the 15 second soundbite on the evening news, but for these families - heroes every one - every day sees new opportunities to ensure that the emphasis is on how their loved ones LIVED. They are the keepers of the legacy, and the living embodiment of the difference their loved ones made in the world.

Since 9/11, many other families have lived heroic lives with courage, grace and such dignity. From where I sit, it is the families of our fallen heroes who deserve enormous credit as heroes. In England, families of the fallen are now being given the Elizabeth Cross, which I wrote about here. All the American 9/11 families were given the Medal of Valor by President George W Bush - the civilian equivalent of the military Medal of Honor. Yes, that is appropriate recognition, but merely a small token of the heroic lives the families must now live minute by minute, day by day, for the rest of their lives.

I have been blessed to meet and come to love more than a few family heroes. I have shared their lives here on occasion. Robert and the Stokely family spring to mind:

I have had the priviledge of meeting Robert, who humbles me by calling me his 'friend.' Robert daily proves to me what a hero he is, as he heads up the Mike Stokely Foundation here, which works to maintain the legacy that his beloved son Mike lived for. You really should go and read about Mike's life at that link. Mike's sister, Abbey, is also a hero every single day.

Do not ever doubt, Abbey, that Mike is so proud of you. Never, ever, doubt that that you are a hero to me.

Deborah and Dave Tainsh are heroes to me, every single day. Yes, I have written about their son Patrick, and it is how Deb and Dave choose to honour Patrick's life that makes them heroes to me. Rather than quietly live their memories of Patrick, Deb and Dave honour the life of Patrick. Deb and Dave are extraordinary as they generously share their journey since Patrick's loss in Iraq on 2/11/04. Deb is a writer, public speaker and an advocate for all grieving families. You can find a list of some of her writings on here.

I have had the priviledge of sharing some of Deb's writing with you, and you can find those by putting her name in my search thing above, or going over to Tanker Bros (my first milblog 'home') here.

Deb and Dave, you are heroes to me, and I am always humbled by you calling me your friend.

I would be remiss if I did not share David Jeffers with you. I 'met' this Gold Star Father quite by 'coincidence', and how blessed I was. Back in September, 2007, I heard about his son Eddie who was killed serving his country. I felt compelled to write a public letter to Eddie, which said in part:

Dear Eddie,
Dear Eddie:

You didn't know me in the 23 years you were here, but I have been thinking a lot about you the last few days. Really, I have. This is not the first time I have thought of you, been aware of you. I remember back when your piece "Hope Rides Alone" became famous all over the internet. I know that piece of fine writing from the sandbox gave insights to many of how amazing all of you are, who are fighting today. I remember. I remember smiling because your words put the lie, yet again, to the notion that all soldiers are just killing machines, ignorant hick Rambos gone wild. And you kept fighting, and you kept writing, as the rest of us went on about our everyday business, doing whatever it is we all do, that is SO (sarcasm here) important.

And now? This last week has seen your work, again, all over the internet, and there has been much weeping and sorrow. I have read a lot of the stuff written about you and I feel as if I know you. I read with great sadness that you had died in Iraq. This human heart was heavy. But, as I have talked to people, re-read your writing, I have been so grateful to have been given a glimpse of you.

I got an email from your dad David, in response to an email I had sent to him, and I KNOW you are smiling down on him. Oh Eddie, I know you know the human dad is struggling with this loss, but you also know that he has faith to sustain him as he continues on his human path. Like you, he knows he is a child of God and he knows, as do I, that 'death' is no finality. I remember a long time ago reading somewhere that a way of looking at 'death' as we know it in our human realm, is that those gone before have just stepped into the next room; never far away. My prayer for your dad and all your family is that they always feel you close by. I know that the love we share, one with another in this classroom called "life", never dies, but lives on forever. I hope your family holds on to this truth in the times ahead.....(read the rest here, and meet Eddie's mum, dad and sisters)

David and Tina, you ARE heroes to me.

The list of my family heroes is long. Most of them will never be known to the general public, but I am honoured to be in some of their lives, albeit in a small way. There is Deborah Iverson May, widow of Don, and if you don't know who he is, you should. Again, head over to Tanker Bros and look at his picture on the left sidebar here. I have had the honour of writing about Don and Deborah a few times. Check out one such column here. Deborah is raising their three children, and make no mistake, those children are also heroes. As I have often said, the children also serve.

This picture is Don and Jack in April 2001, and yes, Jack has turned into quite the super star in his own right (Sorry, Deb! Threaten him with Aunty Brat.....)

Mickey Arnette Bryant is another one of my heroes. Mum of Jason, every single day she honours the life her son chose.

Jason Arnette

I last wrote about Mickey and her son Jason on the occasion of a local bridge being renamed the
SSG JASON R ARNETTE MEMORIAL BRIDGE. You can read more about that here.

Take a look at this video. Jason is the first face you see, and yes, every single person here has a family of heroes standing for them:

Be sure to go over to the site of the creator of this video here and read what he has to say. Mickey, you ARE a hero to me, every single day.

Cat Brooks is a hero of mine. You probably have no idea who she is, unless you are a regular reader of mine. Cat is the aunt of Sgt John Rode, who was remembered as part of the Run For the Fallen in 2008. Cat is also a Soldiers' Angel (which is how I first met her.) Cat is another family hero, who continues to work with our troops and their families as a way to honour her precious nephew. Back in August 2008, Cat graciously allowed me to share her thoughts and memories of her nephew John. Back then, I wrote - in part - :

Run for the Fallen is today remembering - and honouring - Sgt. John David Rode, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. A hero among heroes. As with all our heroes, John is not only a hero to all of us; he is also the precious son of Cheryl and Tom Rode; beloved nephew to Cat and Eddie Brooks, and most gentle, awesome uncle to the children. John's family graciously shared their stories, their pictures of John, and it is my honour and priviledge to be allowed to share with you, through those who love John the most.

I am so sorry it has taken so long for me to get back to you...the real reason is every time I sit down to write I have so many memories flooding back and I don’t know where to begin....

Through his serious and tough exterior that he had adopted, he let us see the big kid he was still inside. He absolutely loved my kids with abandon and was not afraid to show it, often rolling on the floor and chasing them on the playground. His gentleness and awe of the little vulnerable baby that was presented to him when he met his little niece Izzy for the first time was precious. To see this big strong tough Soldier hold that baby with such tenderness and love was a glimpse into his soul.

(read the rest of this column here)

I have often heard the question asked: Where do we find such heroes? I know the answer to that: it is in the families who raise these fine men and women; they each are a product of those who love them the most.

Family heroes - my heroes of this year, or any year - come from outside America, too. Judith Budd, mother of Shane Keating, is a Canadian. From Saskatoon, she held a news conference after her beloved son was killed in September 2006, serving his country:
A Saskatoon mother devastated by the loss of her soldier son in Afghanistan can also find meaning in his death.

Judith Budd spoke with reporters Thursday about Cpl. Shane Keating, who was killed along with three other Canadian soldiers at Kandahar when they were attacked by a suicide bomber earlier this week.

Judith Budd.
Judith Budd.
"Nothing, nothing is worth the loss of a son, but everything, everything is worth a man actually being willing to take that risk and die for what be believes in," Budd said as family members stood next to her.

Budd said she fully supports Canada's role in Afghanistan. Her son was aware of the dangers and he knew how afraid she was for him, but he strongly believed in why he was going over there, she said.

"He said you can't just look at the individual because most of us will come home and the ones who don't have made a difference and it's worth it."

Cpl. Shane Keating was one of four Canadian soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan on Monday.
Cpl. Shane Keating was one of four Canadian soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan on Monday.
(Canadian Press)

...(CBC here)

There is a video of Shane's mum speaking, and I urge you to watch it. Yes, it is painful to watch this mother's grief, but it IS absolute heroism in its finest form: I cannot embed it, but follow this link and spend some time with Judith Budd. Judith Budd is one of my heroes. One of the things she said that has always stuck with me?

"Those who love the world serve it in action..."

And these families all continue to serve the mission their loved ones served. Whether you see them on the front pages of the msm, be sure that these families all honour their loved ones. They serve in action, for the love of their family members.

I introduced you to Mishelle Brown last March. I wrote:

Canadian Hero who also serves: Mishelle Brown:

Mishelle Brown, widow of slain Warrant Officer Dennis Raymond Brown, holds a news conference in St. Catharines, Ont., on Wednesday, March 4, 2009. (Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

My regular readers all know how much respect I have for the families of our troops. They also serve. I have just listened to a sound bite of a press conference Mishelle Brown did. She is the now widow of WO Dennis Brown who was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. (See my previous post.)...

We talked about everything . . . some people say, 'I wish I had one more thing to say to them,' but I said everything, I don't have to say one more thing, I said it all when he was alive," she told reporters in St. Catharines, Ont. "Everyday I spoke to him I reminded him how important he was to me and how lucky I was to have him."

She said they spoke only about the possibility he would die in Afghanistan.

"Dennis was a realist . . . he made me prepare for his death," she said, adding that they discussed with their four children what they would do if he died in the line of duty. "And boy, did we prepare."...

Brown's wife said she was told he was a hero, but that he was always "her hero."

Mishelle Brown said she wanted "the whole world to know what an amazing man he was."

"That's what's keeping me strong, I met my dream come true. Nobody can take that away from me. No roadside bomb can take that away from me. "(source: (read the rest of that column here)

Mishelle, you ARE - and will always be - a hero to me.

Another Canadian you may never have heard about, but she is a hero nevertheless, is Maureen Eykelenboom. She is the mother of Andrew, "Boomer."
Welcome to Boomer's Legacy!

Boomer's Legacy was founded by Maureen Eykelenboom and named in memory of her son Corporal Andrew "Boomer" Eykelenboom after he was killed by a suicide bomber in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan in August 2006. Andrew was a soldier and a medic who went to war to save lives.

Through personal acts of kindness and compassion, Andrew and his comrades made a positive difference in the lives of men, women and especially children.

Today, Andrew's humanitarian spirit lives on through Boomer's Legacy.

Boomer's Legacy is an amazing ongoing homage to a truly special young man. Be sure and check out their site. Learn more about Andrew, and the work his family does to honour his memory here.

Maureen, you are a hero.

Just in these last few days, Canada has borne witness to yet another family hero. Private Garrett Chidley is one of the four fallen Canadian heroes on his way home to his loving family, and yes, grateful nation.

Cam Chidley said his son was proud to be in Afghanistan as part of the Canadian combat and reconstruction effort.

"He was proud and happy to go there. He worked hard to get there. He was proud of his buddies, proud of what he was up to," he said...

Brig.-Gen Daniel Ménard: "He loved talking about his family, especially about how much fun he and his dad together." (CBC here )

Many of these family members who become heroes through circumstances outside of their control, you may never hear about. Because of the work I have done, I have been priviledged to witness many quiet heroes. Some of these heroes are raising their children, working in their chosen careers, putting one foot in front of the other every single day. Each one of them finds their own comfort zone; finds their own appropriate ways to deal with the status of 'hero' they found thrust upon them.

In November 2007, I wrote about some of these heroes who blog. You may have missed my column:

The Girl Behind the Man behind the Gun

The Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun
by MacDonald, Wilson Pugsley, (b. 1880)

You have seen the line of khaki swinging grandly down the street,
You have heard the band blare out Britannic songs;
You have read a ton of papers and you've thrown them at your feet,
And your brain's a battlefield for fighting throngs.
You have cheered for Tommy Atkins, and you've yelled for Jack Canuck;
You have praised the French and Belgians, every one.
But I'm rhyming here a measure to the valor and the pluck
Of the Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun.

There's a harder game than fighting; there's a deeper wound by far
Than the bayonet or the bullet ever tore.
And a patient, little woman wears upon her heart a scar
Which the lonesome years will keep for evermore.
There are bands and bugles crying and the horses madly ride,
And in passion are the trenches lost or won.
But SHE battles in the silence, with no comrade at her side,
Does the girl behind the man behind the gun.

Fact is, in every war there are women left behind on the homefront. In WW2, most of those women worked in munitions factories (Rosie Riveter anyone?) and in England, many of those "girl[s] behind the man ..." joined the Women's Land Army to make sure that food was still produced to feed a nation at war. The women in my family have shared many stories of their escapades in the WLA!

In this current war, women are - again - playing a vital role contributing to the war effort. Yes, women now are in the frontline combat roles, but there is also a group of women whose war efforts are every bit as critical as their sisters commanding tanks, machine guns, in the sandbox.

They are the wives, the mothers, the bloggers. Seems fitting to me that in this war, being fought on two fronts at home, (the msm and the rest of women are writing about their lives as connected to the military. These women have a unique perspective, that the rest of us do not. Their contributions to the GWOT are every bit as vital as the man with the gun. I suspect the men with the guns would agree with me!... (read more about some of my family heroes - who continue to serve - here on Tanker Bros)

Another family member who is a hero to me is Mike "Moon" Mullens. I have shared his work with you all a few times. Mike is a friend, a Vietnam veteran, a writer, and the proud father of a son who is serving in the US military. Mike has graciously shared much of his own Vietnam experiences through his writing with me, and I have posted them here. He also has written about his experiences of being the home front hero as his son now serves:
He is home

He is Home

A crowd gathered on a Tuesday eve.

His group was due in and I was pleased.

There were family holding welcome signs.

His friends showed too, to my surprise.

There was quite a crew to see him home.

Even though the holiday found him alone.

Now, two weeks later, he is really home,

And the strain is seeping out of his bones.

The stress and strength are not demanded.

The lines in his face are etched, indented

In his furrowed brow, without his knowing.

The frown shrinks while his smile is growing.

His face is relaxing from the war’s demands.

His adrenalin is not being used just now.

He does not have a load dragging him down;

Lives in the balance, and equipment too.

He does not face the political strife in lieu

Of a grateful nation that will never know

All he and others do in war’s blood-red glow.

The lines are softening, his child inspires love

And his wife feels his pain, seeks his truth.

Be sure and read the rest of this one here.

Thank YOU, Mike. I don't think I have ever told you, but you are a hero to me in so many ways.

Another family hero recently came to my attention. Leila Hunt-Willingham is the sister of J D Hunt.. Jason Hunt was one of the 14 murdered in Ft Hood last month, and I gave a brief profile of him here:
Spc. Jason Dean Hunt,

Tipton, Oklahoma

As a boy, Jason Hunt once had to wear silver caps on his front teeth. When he was too timid to smile, his sister, playing on his love for video games, asked him to show his Ninja Turtle teeth.

"He was so embarrassed and such a shy boy," recalled his sister Leila Willingham, 30, of Frederick, Okla. "That was the only way I could make him smile." In high school, Hunt refused to dissect a cat for a class assignment. He was so upset that his mother had to pick him up from school.

But Hunt's shy and sensitive side was transformed, his family said, when he joined the military. His already caring nature bloomed into something brave, selfless and fearless, they said. He hoped to save somebody's life someday....

In August, he got married in Okalahoma City. "He had a blue tie and he was so happy to have his family there and to be becoming part of a family," his sister recalled through sobs.

Willingham recalled her brother once likened his feelings for his military family to the love a parent feels for their children.

"He said, 'I would die for your children.' He said, 'I would die for a stranger to save them.' And he said he would dive in front of a bullet for a soldier."...(here)
His sister is now writing her own blog. In her first post, she writes:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

You may know about me. I'm a mom of 2 bright lights. A wife. A sister. A child of God. After my sweet (and only) brother was killed at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009, I sit here, feeling compelled to write about him.

My baby brother, Jason. JD is what I call him. But for the purpose of this blog, I am writing for "J." Sometimes I will be writing about my brother. Sometimes I will be writing to him. Sometimes I will be writing to and about the other "J" in my life - the most important. My savior, best friend and Comforter - Jesus.

This blog is not to creep people out or to attract any negativity. Just to heal. To grow. To listen to my Lord and find comfort in the darkest hour or joy in the brightest, and share it.

Thanks for visiting.

Yours and His,

Leila has written a few great columns about her brother, and her own journey of healing. Go check it out here.

Even though the mainstream media will not tell you this, there are many families who are daily heroes. These are the families of those who are currently serving, who have deployed, or who are in the various sandboxes. More than a few of them I now number as friends: there is Donna (whose son Butch I profiled as one of my Every Day Heroes when he returned to Iraq on a second tour); Melinda, who is raising her children as her husband is deployed, Emily, whose husband CJ serves in oh so many ways; Deb, whose daughter signed on to serve her country; Mrs Master Gunner, whose husband first introduced me to milblogging (and look where it got us all....); Mrs Toy Soldier, who married into the Hooah family; Connie, whose family also serves; Carla and Janet, mum and mum-in-law of RJ, whose wife Lisa is another of my heroes.

Another Canadian military wife was also added to my list of heroes this past year. If you don't know Louise, you really should go and read her site: From The Home Front is a personal, oh so eloquent journal of this young wife and mother's challenges as her husband served in Afghanistan. Louise, you ARE a hero to me. Paula is an Israeli Soldier's Mother who shares her words and insights from the heart of a home front hero. Paula: Thank YOU! The list of family heroes, serving on the home front, would fill more than a few volumes, and I cannot list them all here.

When the history books are written of today's Global War on Terror, you may not see any of the family members I have introduced you to above. However, for me, every one of them is my hero, and their courage, grace and dignity is engraved on my heart - inspires me - and I will always honour them, as my Heroes of the Year, every year, forever. I WILL remember them, with gratitude, respect and love. Will you?