|This was when the children of the fallen let their balloons go with their notes for their parents.|
Why I Bought So Many Bananas
I was at HEB very early this morning. I nearly filled up my shopping cart with bananas. The cashier asked me why I was buying so many bananas. So, I shall explain why now.
I spent an amazing weekend volunteering with the USO at the Fort Hood TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) conference. This conference is for Gold Star families to come together to celebrate the lives of those they love who have died while serving our country. I signed up just to serve food, but I had no idea what an impact this weekend would have on me.
I met a mother whose only son committed suicide after coming home from combat and finding that he couldn’t face the enemies inside himself. She spoke about how her own family disowned her because they say her son did not die honorably. Her TAPS family is the only family she has now.
I heard a father speak about how he had never talked about his son’s death with anyone because he felt like if he didn’t talk about it then he wouldn’t have to grieve. But, his pain was overwhelming and he cried in front of the group. He said he had always thought he was a patriotic man but he never realized how patriotic he was until it cost him his son.
I heard another father speak about how he lost both of his sons in one week. He received word on a Tuesday that his younger son had been killed in Iraq and on that Friday his older son was killed in a car accident while driving home to be with the family for the funeral.
I met two families from a very small town in Texas who share an unfortunate bond of both having lost children in Afghanistan.
I met the brave wife of a soldier who was killed in the horrific shooting here at Fort Hood that claimed 13 lives on November 5, 2009.
I saw one lady at the conference whose son was in a class with my son and who I had seen several times at playtime at the gym and at story time at the library. She is always so energetic and full of life when I see her. I had no idea that her husband was killed recently and that she is a widow at such a young age.
I met one woman who is about 6 months pregnant with a little girl, the little girl her husband had always wanted. Her husband was killed just two months ago.
I met a friendly southern politician whose own hometown would not put the name of his dead son on the town’s war memorial. His son died in a motorcycle accident after coming home from his 3rd tour of duty. The town told this father that since his son had not died in combat that he had not “earned the right to be honored on the wall.”
I met other parents from Texas who shared with me about their son’s stubbornness and laziness. They said when their son joined the Army they had doubts about whether he would ever get out of bed on time for PT. Only at his funeral did his Army buddies tell them that their son was always the first one at PT. They now know that he loved what he did.
I met one man whose sister was killed in combat. He was going around the conference getting signatures from everyone there on his t-shirt. He came over to me and asked me to sign his shirt. I asked him why he was getting everyone to sign his shirt. He said, “Some people want autographs from athletes or rock stars, but I want autographs from true heroes.” He talked about how feisty his younger sister was and how he has her picture in his living room. He says he feels like she is always watching him to make sure he stays in line and does not misbehave and how he finds comfort in that.
One lady was the comedian of the group and one of the leaders. Her husband was killed. She spoke to people honestly and between the tears she found ways to make them laugh. She talked about how just after her husband was killed people felt the need to bring her a casserole. She said, “I will never understand what people thought I was going to do with 18 casseroles. I really wanted some chocolate and a beer.”
None of these families ever spoke of being anti-war and in fact I only heard them speak of their support for these wars and how they know that the world is a better place because of the sacrifices that their loved ones made. The patriotism in that room was unlike anything I have ever experienced before and I am an Army wife! They don’t ask the world to support the cause only to cherish your freedoms because they paid a high price for it.
These families did not want people to feel sorry for them or to try to understand what they are going through. They have each other to lean on for support and I am grateful to TAPS for being there for those families. They all spoke about their love for their service member, their love for the military, and their love for their country. They don’t want pity; they just don’t want us to forget. I may not remember all their names, but I will never forget their faces and their stories.
TAPS is a very loving group where they welcome each new member with big, sincere hugs while telling them “We wish you didn’t have to be a part of this group.”
On the last day of the conference, the families gathered together and wrote messages to their loved ones that they had lost on little square tissues. Then, they tied these tissues to balloons. They all went outside with their balloons and let them go.
There were also the children of the fallen at the conference. Each child was assigned a mentor, an active duty soldier who would be with them the whole weekend. These mentors talked with the kids about their parents that had died. They also did activities, played games, and took lots of pictures.
There was one little boy who really caught my attention. When his Mom told this little boy that he was getting his own soldier to hang out with, this sweet child said “Can we keep him?” I will never forget that little boy; he is the reason why I bought the bananas. Towards the end of the first day of the conference we ran out of bananas on the food line that I was working on. That same sweet little boy who wanted to “keep” his soldier came up and asked me for a banana. I told him that we did not have any bananas and asked him if I could get him something else. He smiled and said, “No thank you, I really just wanted a banana.”
My heart broke again. Here is a young boy whose father died to keep my family free and I could not even give him a banana. So, this morning when I was on my way into the conference I knew what I had to do. I went to the store and filled my basket with bananas. When the checkout lady asked me why I was buying so many bananas I simply said, “A little boy paid dearly for me and I will make sure that I do not let him down again.”