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:

Marking the Loss of One Who Fought Bin Laden

 In yesterday’s blog, Tracie Ciambotti asked this question about the “celebration” and patriotic responses over the death of Osama Bin Laden:

“Do service members dying for our freedom, wounded warriors confined to wheel chairs, and daily sacrifices made by military families—all for the defense of what our flag represents—not warrant the same media attention and outpouring from a grateful nation?”

Today, 6 May 2011, is a sad time because a fallen warrior – the second in just three days – will arrive in Tampa. But, it is also an opportunity to display the patriotism and same outpouring of emotion many felt upon the news of Bin Laden’s death.

Air Force Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II

Air Force Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II, 40,  was one of nine killed April 27th by a disgruntled Afghan Air Force pilot at Kabul International Airport.

Estelle started his career at MacDill as a communications officer with the 6th Communications Squadron, where he was stationed from February 1999 to January 2001.

Estelle is scheduled to return to MacDill on an Angel Flight at noon. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office will provide Estelle and his family a Fallen Hero Escort which is expected to leave the base at 12:45 p.m.

People living in the Tampa Bay area can gather to show their respects to Estelle – someone who gave his life fighting the terrorism spread by Bin Laden – by turning out to line the honor escort route.

Note that the route of the escort goes through downtown Tampa during lunchtime – so no excuses.

The route: eave MacDill AFB at 12:45 – North on BayShore Blvd. – East on Platt Street Bridge – North on Florida Ave. – East on Jackson Street – North on N. Jefferson Street – East on Twiggs Street – South on Ashley Drive – West on  Kennedy Blvd to  North Howard  and the Ray Williams Funeral Home, 301 North Howard Ave., Tampa.

MacDill Honor Escort for Army PFC Michael Mahr

Army Pfc. Michael Mahr of Homosassa was killed March 22 when his vehicle in Logar Province, Afghanistan was attacked with explosives and small arms fire. His family flew to Dover to be there for his return.

Community patriots assemble along Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard each time an Honor Escort brings a fallen warrior home.

This morning, the community will welcome home the fallen warrior. The Angel Flight bringing Mahr home is due to land at MacDill Air Force Base today at 10:45. Military personnel, staff and members of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club will line the streets on base to pay tribute to Mahr and his family.

The Honor Escort will exit the base and drive north on Bayshore Boulevard where members of the Troop Support Alliance and The Lutz Patriots will wave flags and note his return at the Colonnade Restaurant, 3401 Bayshore. The public is invited to join the groups in paying tribute to the Mahr family.

The escort will travel north on Bayshore Boulevard, east on Platt Street Bridge, north on Florida Avenue, east on Jackson, north on Jefferson, north on Cass to the northbound I-275 entrance.

So, if you work in downtown Tampa, take a moment to go outside and note the passing of the Mahr’s Honor Escort. The procession will head north on I-275 to I-75 and Purcell Funeral Home, 114 West Noble Ave., Bushnell.

Mahr was assigned to the 54th Engineer Battalion, 18th Engineer Brigade, Bamberg, Germany which held a separate memorial service. The 26-year-old soldier is survived by his wife, his 3-year-old son, a twin brother, Matthew, and a lot of other family.

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