In World War II, families learned of a loved one killed in action by telegram. My husband's grandfather, with two military sons, recalled watching the telegram delivery man ride his bike down the street and praying that he would not stop at his door. Today a uniformed service member delivers the notification in person. Since 2001, the families of almost 7,000 men and women have opened their front doors to that devastating news.
In that instant, life changes, leaving parents, spouses, siblings, children and others reeling. For parents, losing a child violates the natural order of life.
How does one go on? Simply, there's no one set way. "Section 60," a recent HBO documentary, focused on parents who routinely tend to the graves of their children and others buried in the section of Arlington National Cemetery reserved for vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Another way is to use the tragedy as motivation to help others. Around the country there are dozens of groups that do just that, ranging from modest efforts to charitable organizations. That's the approach the families of two young men who went to the same Long Island high school as my sons have taken to preserve their sons' legacy.
On Sept. 3, 2004, Marine 1st Lt. Ronald Winchester, 25, had just started his second tour in Iraq when a roadside bomb killed him. The following spring, his mother, Marianna, organized an annual walkathon to raise money for several charities that benefit the military, including wounded Marines and vet dogs.
Three years later, on Feb. 9, 2007, Sgt. James Regan, a 26-year-old Army Ranger on his fourth deployment in Iraq, was fatally injured by an improvised explosive device. Later that year, his parents, James and Mary, started the Lead the Way Fund in their only son's memory. Through a variety of annual events - from a race down the West Side of Manhattan to gala dinners - the group raises close to $500,000 each year. The fund aids Rangers and their families by helping with rehabilitation expenses, providing activities for children while parents are deployed and many other ways.
For most Americans, Memorial Day signals the summer kickoff with barbeques and veterans' parades. For families like the Winchesters and Regans, every day is Memorial Day. Yet, propelled by their grief, they have found a way to honor their sons' patriotism and spirit by helping other soldiers and their families in their own time of need.
Mary W. Quigley's blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.
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