About Military Families Don't Have To Mourn Alone
|January 13th, 2007||#1|
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Military Families Don't Have To Mourn Alone info
January 13, 2007
Volunteers take over where official help leaves off
By Richard Stewart, Houston Chronicle
When the two soldiers at the door asked for Tanner Ford's mother, his heart sank. "Is it bad news?" he asked. They said it was.
He knew that his twin brother, Army Spc. Philip Cody Ford, had been killed in Iraq.
The University of Houston student was the first in his family to get the terrible news.
In the days that followed, he said, the soldiers who had brought the news helped his family through the funeral arrangements and helped them with both the emotional shock and the bureaucracy of dealing with a military death.
Nothing can replace a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly lost, but when a service member dies in Afghanistan or Iraq, a series of organizations go into action to help the stricken families.
From those who have to deliver the tragic news to a loosely knit group of patriotic motorcyclists, all strive to help grieving families in their time of need.
There has been a lot of need for help. More than 60 service members from the Houston area have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, five in December alone.
Spc. Dustin Donica, of Spring, was killed Dec. 28, a day after Pfc. Nathaniel Given, of Dickinson, died. Lance Cpl. Stephen Morris, of Lake Jackson, was killed Dec. 24. Lance Cpl. Luke Yepsen, of Kingwood, died Dec. 14. Spc. Philip Cody Ford, of Jones Creek, was killed Dec. 10.
In almost all cases, families first learn about their loss at home when officers drive up to deliver the news.
President Bush braced Americans for more casualties as he said Wednesday night that 21,500 more troops will be sent to Iraq.
Each military service has officers trained for the delicate job of notifying families, and each group has its own traditions and customs.
"Care for families of the fallen is a task that is accepted with great care and reverence," said Marine Maj. Stewart Upton. "We owe nothing less to those who have given their last full measure of devotion."
Money doesn't replace people, but the military first provides $100,000 in cash to the spouse or parents. Then it pays up to $7,700 to help cover funeral costs. Experts from the different branches arrive to start coordinating the funeral.
When news of the tragedy starts going through a community, other groups get involved.
A steady stream of people filed into the living room of the Lake Jackson home of Lloyd Morris recently after he was notified that his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Stephen Morris, had been killed. Some brought food but most brought hugs, words of comfort, tears and prayers.
In Brazoria County, the home of seven service members who have been killed, a group called Military Moms and Wives has taken on the job of helping those with children and spouses in the military.
The group collects items such as toiletries and snacks to send to the troops. Next month they will have a blood drive.
And when a service member dies, they bring flags.
"We just politely ask them if they would mind if we put flags around their house to honor their loved one," said Mary Marino, who heads the group. If the family declines, group members quietly go away. Most of the time, the families accept.
Military Moms and Wives first placed about 100 flags, large and small, around the Morris home. Most were U.S. flags. There were also Marine Corps flags.
But soon the group, joined by residents, put out about 600 flags along tree-shaded Oyster Creek Drive.
At Morris' funeral, as they had just two weeks earlier at the funeral of Ford, the Lake Jackson and Angleton fire departments placed big snorkel trucks with their long arms and buckets forming a big arch. A huge U.S. flag flew from the arch.
Another group involved in the funeral is the Patriot Guard Riders, a national organization of motorcyclists that has provided rolling escorts at about 80 percent of the funerals since late 2005.
After Morris' funeral, more than 40 of the riders escorted the long procession through a cold rain more than 65 miles from Lake Jackson to Houston National Cemetery.
Military funerals are full of ceremony, with volleys of shots fired, taps slowly played by a bugler and the big flag over the casket reverently folded and presented to survivors.
Each family received the loved one's Purple Heart medal, and some get other medals.
Families get some more long-term aid as well.
Each service member has life insurance. The standard amount is $400,000, but some elect to have less coverage, Upton said.
The beneficiary, chosen by the service member, is usually a spouse or parents, but there are exceptions.
Philip Cody Ford made his twin brother, Tanner, his beneficiary, a decision that may have far-reaching effects.
The money is to pay Tanner Ford's way through medical school.
Years from now, patients may live because of the young soldier's sacrifice.
Dependents get certain housing relocation help. Surviving spouses can also get a portion of the fallen person's retirement payments.
Most spouses who do not remarry will get $1,067 a month through the Department of Veterans Affairs, Sonya Turner, a Brazoria County veterans service officer, said.
The amount increases by $265 if there are dependent children, she said.
There are also certain educational benefits and some health coverage benefits.
There will doubtless be many memorials to those who have been killed, but one of the most poignant is along a long wooden fence at the home of retiree Jimmy Jackson, 64, on County Road 874 in Angleton.
Since American troops have been in Afghanistan, he has put a white cross on the fence for each one killed.
The Military Moms and Wives are putting a brass name plate on each one.
"I see parents out there putting their hands on the names of their loved ones," Jackson said. "I think it helps them to just have that connection."
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