An Air Force Wife’s Thoughts on Memorial Day

Military personnel and civilians join together to line the streets at MacDill AFB for every "Fallen Hero Homecoming."

This Memorial Day I couldn’t help but reflect on some of my new experiences of the past few months. I have attended my first few Fallen Hero homecomings since moving to Tampa last summer.

Each time, the sidewalks on MacDill Air Force Base slowly fill. People mingle and talk and joke with one another. Some are in uniforms, some are in office attire. Some hold flags, some, like me, hold babies. It is always quite a cross-section regardless of where I’ve stood.

As the first police cars or motorcycles come into view, a silence takes over. Even fussy babies and rambunctious toddlers seem to know that it is time to be quiet as they watch the cars drive by. Of course, the hearse carrying the guest of honor gets my attention, but I can’t help but get choked up looking at the family members in cars behind. They clutch to their cameras. They gasp and cover their mouths. They are stoic and yet you can see that their eyes are glossy and red from tears.

Dayton National Cemetery where Michelle along with the Girl Scouts place flags on every grave annually for Memorial Day.

The families are the reason I attend these homecomings. The journey is over for the soldier but it is just beginning for the parents, spouses, and children. I will continue to take my daughter with me because I want her to respect the sacrifices of others. I know that I am fortunate that my husband does not deploy too often.

Watching a story about the American Widow Project on the Today Show this morning, I caught myself thinking “Wow, I want to do that.” I then realized, no, no I don’t want to be able to be part of that organization.  I can’t imagine going through losing my husband. Those spouses are who my heart goes out to on days like Monday.

Treats for Troops boxed up and awaiting shipping.

When my husband and I lived in Ohio, we participated in placing flags on the grounds at the Dayton National Cemetery through the Girl Scouts. I always found it interesting to listen to the children talk about what they were doing and how much pride they took in placing the flags just right. I plan to find a way to participate in something similar next year here in Tampa.

There are so many great organizations that do so much for military members and their family’s year round. There are organizations here in the Tampa area that I hope to volunteer with when I am able to. Operation Homefront Florida has a variety of events throughout the state. I recently began working on collecting items for care packages for Treats for Troops.

Memorial Day, and every day, I am thankful for all that have served to make this a great country and to those that serve today to keep it that way. Thank you to their families that support them as well.

Michelle VanHuss is an Air Force wife, Off the Base contributor and member of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club. Her other entries include:

Finding a Balance: Redefining Myself as an Air Force Wife

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

A Moment of Silence: Memorial Day 2011

Memorial Day is a collective holiday in that all can join to commemorate the sacrifice and to honor U.S. Forces killed in action. And, it is also a day for personal reflection. The following video, produced four years ago, remains as powerful in 2011.

Thank you to all who have served, to the families who have lost a loved one. None will be forgotten.

Another Way to Thank Military Families on Memorial Day

You may not live near a National Cemetery or this Memorial Day you may have other ways to commemorate the men and women killed while serving in the U.S. Forces.

But if not,  Military Families United has set up a web page where you can write a simple thank you note. It doesn’t need to be much. Watch this video to understand who you will be sending your message to:

Memorial Day Ceremonies in Florida and VA Cemeteries

A previous Memorial Day at Vicksburg National Military Park.

There’s no excuse for civilians not finding a ceremony Monday that honors military members killed in action. The Department of Veterans Affairs has compiled a list of VA National Cemeteries ceremonies.

Most states have a VA National Cemetery, but not all.

ST. PETERSBURG – The Bay Pines VA will commemorate Memorial Day with a ceremony on Monday, May 30th at 10:00 am at the Bay Pines National Cemetery.  More than 3,000 are expected to attend. The Clearwater High School Marine Corps JROTC Silent Drill Team will perform as well as post and retire colors.  Parking is available nearby and shuttles will provide transportation for guests from parking lots to the National Cemetery.  Boy Scout Troops have placed American flags on all 30,432 graves. 

BRADENTON – A “Laying of the Wreath Ceremony” is set Monday at 9 am at the Manasota Memorial Park and Funeral Home, located at 1221 53rd Ave East, Bradenton. Hosted and presented by the DAV and DAVA Chapter 18 Commanders. A celebration will follow at the Unit location at 111 63rd Ave E in Bradenton. All Welcome to attend.

TAMPA – A free concert and tribute to veterans featuring music by Derric Johnson’s Liberty Voices from EPCOT Center is scheduled Monday, May 30th at 2 pm at  Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N Ashley Drive.

LARGO – A Sunset Ceremony with music, a wreath laying and other tributes is scheduled May 30, Monday, at 7 pm at Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Drive, Largo.

PALM HARBOR – This year marks the 26th annual Memorial Day observance at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens, 1750 Curlew Road. The ceremony begins 9:30 am featuring local military, religious leaders and other dignitaries.

PINELLAS PARK – The city and the Suncoast Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association will present a Memorial Day Service Monday, May 30, Monday, 11 am at  Freedom Lake Park, 7770 52nd St.

CLEARWATER – A Memorial Day Parade and wreath laying ceremony is being hosted Monday at 2 pm by the Clearwater Veterans Alliance/Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance. The event is planned at Station Square Park, 612 Cleveland St.

In addition, many of the bay area museums are offering active-duty military personnel discount or free admissions. And some are part of the Blue Star Museum program.

Other Florida VA National Cemetery Ceremonies:

Barrancas National Cemetery
Naval Air Station
80 Hovey Road
Pensacola, FL 32508-1099
(850) 453-4108 or 453-4846
Ceremony: May 30 at 9:00 a.m.

Florida National Cemetery
6502 SW 102nd Avenue
Bushnell, FL 33513
(352) 793-7740 or 1074
Ceremony: May 30 at 11:00 a.m.

Jacksonville National Cemetery
4083 Lannie Road
Jacksonville, FL 32218
(904) 766-5222
Ceremony: May 30 at 2:00 p.m.

Sarasota National Cemetery
9810 State Road 72
Sarasota, FL 34241
(941) 922-7200
Ceremony: May 29 at 12:00 p.m.

South Florida National Cemetery
6501 South State Road 7
Lake Worth, FL  33467
(561) 649-6489
Ceremony: May 30 at 10:00 a.m.

St. Augustine National Cemetery
104 Marine Street
St. Augustine, FL 32084
For information please contact: Florida National Cemetery (352) 793-7740
Ceremony:  May 30 at 10:00 a.m.

A Special Memorial Day for Special Operations Forces

A bronze statue of a special forces warrior keeps vigil at Special Operatons Memorial on MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes – the recent success of U.S. Special Forces taking out Osama Bin Laden is rooted in the failed attempt to rescue the  American hostages in Iran. That 1980 mission also created awareness of the need for better coordination of joint military operations.

In 1987, Congress created the U.S. Special Operations Command, SOCOM, based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. Its creation also cemented the mindset of the Special Forces warrior whether Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.

They are known as the “tip of the spear” – the first to go into dangerous regions. While the world learned of the Osama Bin Laden operation – most Special Forces’ missions never become public.

Former special forces officer Geoff Barker oversees the memorial and raising money to keep it going.

A handful of military professionals wanted to assure that their fellow Special Forces’ comrades would not be forgotten. So they conceived of the Special Operations Memorial and raised money to build it.

“A special operations’ warrior is a volunteer, who has seen where the action is and wants to go into where the action is,” said Geoff Barker, who served with both British and U.S. Special Forces. “There’s a vast huge bond between all of the services and all of the special operation forces. We all work together.”

Barker is a co-ounder of the memorial and serves as president of the Special Operations Memorial Foundation. He carries with him a thick notebook that includes the names of all those killed, each has an engraved tile on the wall. He places each tile himself.

There also are tribute tiles – on the exterior walls for donors – the interior walls are only for those who have qualified as special forces.

One donor purchased tiles for Special Forces members he fought with in WWII, another for his Special Forces’ teammates from the Vietnam War.

The memorial’s first design had four walls clad in tiles. The four walls formed a square. In the middle was a bronze statue of a Special Forces’ warrior holding his weapon – at the ready – peering out to the street and further to the bay.

That bronze warrior is all that is left of the original memorial which held 306 names of special forces members killed in action or training  from 1980 through 9/11 including the name of one Special Forces officer who was killed on 11 September 2001 when the aircraft crashed in to the Pentagon.

But due to those very terrorist attacks, there’s been a dramatic increase in special operations and in the loss of personnel. It required a redesign so the memorial could hold more names.

The new design was completed in 2007. Its black walls now curve to form the shape of a spear tip.

A gray brick walkway forms the shaft of the spear. The bronze statue of the special ops warrior remains at the center. Behind him is the wall that holds the names of all Special Forces members who have been awarded The Medal of Honor or the Victoria Cross.

Three flags fly above – the U.S. Flag, the MIA/POW flag and the Special Operations Command flag.

“It’s a beautiful place and there’s a lot of beautiful people  on that wall,” Barker reflected pointing out friends and men he’d served with.

Since the 9/11 attacks,  441 names of lost special forces have been added to the memorial. There are 27 new names since last Memorial Day:

Army SGT Jonathan K. Peney

Army SGT Andrew J. Creighton

Army SPC Joseph W. Dimock

Marine SSGT Christopher J. Antonik

Army SGT Justin B. Allen

Army SGT Anibal Santiago

Army CPT Jason E. Holbrook

Army SSG Kyle R. Warren

Army MSG Jared N. Van Asist

Army SGT Andrew C. Nicol

Army SPC Bradley D. Rapphun

Navy SOC Collin T. Thomas

Army SPC Christopher S. Wright

Army SGT Martin A. Lugo

Air Force SrA Daniel R. Sanchez

Army SFC Ronald A. Grider

Navy LT Brendan Looney

Navy SO3 Denis Miranda

Navy CTRCS David McLendon

Navy SO1 Adam O. Smith

Army SFC Calvin B. Harrison

Air Force SrA Mark Forester

Army SFC Lance H. Vogeler

Army SSG Kevin M. Pape

Army SFC Daehan Park

Army MSG Benjamin F. Bitner

Marine Sgt. David P. Day

Their names will be read aloud at a ceremony Friday at the memorial for family, friends and Special Forces personnel.

MacDill Air Force Base Marks an Early Memorial Day

MacDill Air Force Base personnel remembered their fallen comrades during an early Memorial Day ceremony.

By Alex Cook

Memorial Day isn’t until Monday, but members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines held a ceremony on MacDill Air Force Base Thursday honoring those who have died serving their country.

The mood was somber as the military formation gathered under the American flag. A 21-gun salute pierced the silence, followed by a lone bugler playing Taps.

Colonel Lenny Richoux, commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing, led the tribute by presenting a wreath in honor of those who gave their lives for their country.

“All who have worn the uniform know we swear to support and defend the Constitution and we’ll pay the ultimate price – make the ultimate sacrifice,” said Richoux during his speech. “These great Americans and thousands like them who heard the calling of their nation gave all they had so that we can enjoy this beautiful day in Tampa Bay in the great state of Florida, in these United States, the greatest nation on the planet.”

A steel beam salvaged from the World Trade Center sat on display as a reminder of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed the lives of almost 6000 service members over the last decade.

Celebrating the Special Operations Command Memorial

Geoff Barker stands at the Special Operatons Memorial he helped to get built.

I had the privilege to spend part of my day with Geoff Barker. He’s a 73-year-old retired military officer who served in special operations with both British and U.S. forces. Now, he spends his days caring for the memories of all special operation warriors.

Barker was a co-founder and now serves as  president of the Special Operations Memorial Foundation. The organization raised money and built a  memorial to honor the special forces who have lost their lives in action and in training. It sits next to the Special Operations Command, SOCOM, based at Tampa’s  MacDill Air Force Base.

Names on the memorial date back to the 1980 failed hostage rescue in Iran – that was prior to formation of the Special Operations Command.

I will have more about the memorial and the warriors it honors later this week. A Special Operations Memorial Day service is planned Friday at the base.

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