|Cockpit photo: Courtesy American Airlines|
I have been a supporter of the Gary Sinise Foundation for years and my blog has proudly carried a link in the sidebar for readers to explore this most admirable charity.
I was unaware, until yesterday, of Mr. Sinise’s (Lt. Dan from the 1994 film Forrest Gump) involvement in the Snowball Express.
I received a phone call around 12:45 PM on Thursday from management that a group of children would be taking off from my airport to join 1800 other children and the spouses of fallen military for the eighth annual Snowball Express in Dallas.
Sponsored by American Airlines, the charter flight is an all-expense-paid vacation which will last four days with the mission of bringing hope and new happy memories to the children of military heroes who have died while on active duty since September 11, 2001.
The Snowball Express gives these children the opportunity to bond with another child who has lost a parent. It also tries to help those that are left behind by uplifting and honoring their fallen heroes.
Most of the children wore red t-shirts that bore the words “My dad was a hero”. The mothers wore similar shirts that read, “My husband was a hero.”
Local members of the Patriot Guard stood at the back of the checkpoint to greet the families and personally escort them to the gate which was specially decorated for Christmas. Aboard the plane, these very special families were treated to refreshments and entertainment. The send-off included a water cannon salute.
The group formed up outside the checkpoint and had their pictures taken with Santa Claus who was wearing the trademark leather vest of the Patriot Guards festooned with all manner of patches that are commonly seen on these vests.
I met with “Rick” who is a member of the Patriot Guard. He spoke with such reverence about the Guard’s participation in the Snowball Express. They stood at attention until the families cleared the checkpoint. They gave the kids handfuls of candy and little wrapped surprises.
The good thing about the Snowball Express is that it is not a one-time event. These families, once registered, can participate year after year. As one mother said, so many people throughout the year will express their compassion for what these families go through. They say they understand what they are going through but they really don’t.
She said everyone who takes part in the Snowball Express faces the same challenges and hardships. “It’s the only place on earth where talk of our loved ones and their final resting place involves pride, tears and hysterical laughter all at once. A place where there are no fifth wheels, but only belonging and understanding. A place to remember our heroes and the families they left behind. Nothing can compare to what is being given to us this weekend. I love my Snowball Family!”
This mother gave off the greatest glow of happiness, and for me, Christmas has taken on even greater meaning this year.
May God bless these wonderful families.