He was everything you’d want in a son, really

What Gold Star families really need is for their loved one to be remembered. (2)“Jonathan was the youngest. He had four older sisters. We were both married before, but we were so close-knit for a blended family. We got married when Jonathan was only five, so as the youngest, he was brought up being able to hold his own. He played football, baseball, really all of the youth sports, and he especially loved lacrosse. But he also had this really artistic side. His fiancée, Brandy Carter, was an art teacher at Madison High, and they both loved to paint.

“When he was in high school, he really wanted a car. So he saved his money and bought a 1981 Camaro – he was kind of a renaissance man. We had so many problems with that car. We spent so much time tinkering with it. Jonathan had lots of different friends, from all different categories of life. Sports, arts… he was never influenced by anyone else; he really was one of those kids who just got along with everybody.

“When 9/11 happened, Jonathan wanted to do something. Our oldest daughter, Susannah, lost her best friend in the first Tower. There is a picture of her at the memorial at Ground Zero. It was a very personal occurrence for us.

“We’re pretty military oriented. Two of his grandparents were British Aviators in WWII, and both his dad and another grandpa were Marine Corps Officers. Jonathan looked around and found the Virginia National Guard Combat Engineering Battalion. The Virginia National Guard was the first created in the country. We thought it was great.

“In 2003 – 2004 Jonathan was deployed. Right before Christmas, there was a suicide bomber in Mosul. 11 soldiers were killed, and 3 from his unit. We heard about it on the news. He didn’t talk about it much. When he got home, he went back to school at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Engineering Program, and his unit activated again. He said it was what he signed up for; it was his duty to do it.

“I was on the phone with him one day while he was in training stateside, and he said he had a slight cold. He was never one to complain. The phone rang at 5:30 the next day and I was just getting home from work. Jonathan was in the hospital. The doctor said, ‘I have your son here, he’s very sick. His blood pressure keeps dropping.’ I called back at 9:00 and they still didn’t know what was wrong with him. They had just had shift change and they were medevacing him to the Mayo Clinic. Next thing I know, I was called at 10:30pm. He had died in the helicopter en route to Mayo.

“It was Meningococcal Meningitis. I couldn’t understand why on earth they didn’t know that before. It was a crowded training environment; he had a fever and a neck ache. We had so many questions. Jonathan was the acting Platoon Sergeant. I know he didn’t feel good, but he kept going because he was responsible for all of those kids. We heard from the governor of Virginia, the Commanding Officer of the Virginia National Guard and our community rallied around us. They handled this horrible experience with so much compassion and care.

“I never saw Jonathan quit anything. That’s just the way he did things. He was everything you could ask for in a son, really. He’d do anything for anyone. You’d see him in a uniform being a warrior and then 10 minutes later you’d see him with a paintbrush, painting. And he used to have people in stitches with his imitations. He did a really impressive Christopher Walken and a lot of Saturday Night Live skits.

“It’s been 10 years since Jonathan died. We miss him every day. But the community we live in has helped us through. Jonathan’s high school, Gonzaga, is known for their camaraderie and spirit, and we felt that when we lost him. The year after he died, the whole lacrosse team wore his number for the season. Vienna Youth Sports established a lacrosse scholarship in Jonathan’s name and present it annually at a banquet to a high school lacrosse player. And Jonathan worked as a trapper at the Bull Run Shooting Center when he was in school. They established an annual shoot in June called the Jonathan Forde National Sporting Clays Tournament.

“The last thing you want is for your child to be forgotten. What Gold Star families really need is for their loved one to be remembered. Do whatever you can to help keep their memory alive, keep their name alive. We are so grateful so many people remember our Jonathan.”

Just keep going 

  
“I was 6 when it happened. I was pulled out of school and there were a ton of people in the car and at the house. I didn’t know what was happening and people kept patting me on the back. I didn’t know what was going on. Everyone kept saying ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ My mom and grandparents took me in a room and told me that my dad died in a helicopter crash. 

“I’m 9 now. My memories of my dad are fading, but I remember he loved to play with me. He was the one who wrestled with me and played legos. I don’t like to watch videos where I hear his voice because it just makes me feel bad, but I do like to hear stories from my grandparents and my dad’s friends – especially funny stories. I want people to remember him. I want them to remember his personality.

“I’m telling my story because I want people to know what I’ve been through and what kids who lose a parent go through. I didn’t like everyone telling me I’m sorry for your loss. But some of our friends came over and took me to the beach to play the day after it happened and that was good. I didn’t want to sit at home with everyone crying. I also want other kids to know how much we’ve been through. One day, I wore my dad’s hat to school and a kid took it off of me and was teasing me. I told him that it was my dad’s and to give it back, and he said, ‘I thought you didn’t have a dad.’

“I miss my dad every day. But if he wouldn’t have died, I would just be another face in the crowd. I wouldn’t have done anything special. I got to go on Air Force Two, I’ve been to special camps, and I get to do things with the Travis Manion Foundation. For other kids going through this, I would tell them: It won’t be so bad in the future. You never stop missing him. But just keep going.” 
This Father’s Day, this little guy is asking that you make a donation to the Travis Manion foundation in his dad’s name, Landon Jones. To donate, visit: https://donate.travismanion.org/checkout/donation?eid=134356

At the family’s request, all funds raised through that link will be earmarked for the Character Does Matter program through the Travis Manion Foundation. 

Picture taken by the Berkeley College Veterans and Gold Star Reflections project and used with the family’s permission.

Life is a million small moments 

“I graduated high school in 1968 and I went into the military in 1969. My great grandfather served in Company D of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. My grandfather served on a destroyer in World War I, and my father landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. I was only 19 years old when I decided to enlist, but I wanted to follow in the family tradition. On March 21, 1969 I got a phone call asking me if I could leave that afternoon. I called my mom and she freaked out, but my dad was very proud, and very excited for me.

“I went to Lackland Air Force Base first, and then on to Biloxi, and then deployed to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines for 13 months. 10 of those months I spent TDY. When I got to Clark, they needed radio operators in Vietnam, so I raised my hand. I looked at it this way: It was my first time away from home. It was a chance to make my own life and do something for the country. I knew what war was. I knew you could get killed, but you don’t go thinking that. You go to do your job and to protect your comrades. I did what they told me they wanted me to do.

“I left Vietnam and was sent to South Dakota. It was too cold there, so I went back to Vietnam, with the 20th Tactical Air Support in Danang. In about November of 1971, some of the guys and I visited a Vietnamese orphanage. I asked my mom to send me something that would brighten the kids’ day. She sent me 100 yo-yos. We got mobbed by those kids, so she sent me 100 more. It was a war-torn country, but they were still humans. They still had needs. But I grew up in a home that taught us love. Even in war there is dignity. There is compassion. There is so much pain and despair and misery too, but we wanted to do something small to brighten it.

“I got back from Vietnam and was working in New York at a secure building. One day, there was a woman there and she had no way to get in the building. I asked her if I could escort her. That night, I saw her again across the street. I walked over and said, ‘I’m going to a movie, would you like to go?’ That was back when a picture was only a quarter. She said yes, and now it’s 44 years, 7 kids, 25 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild later.

“I retired in March 1992 from the Air Force and started at the Pennsylvania Police Academy in May. I retired in 2012 as a Law Enforcement Park Ranger. I like to say I arrested bears. I learned so many things from my time in the military and as a police officer. I polished my shoes every day. I learned total quality management and the need for integrity. I learned that trust is everything. But the most important lesson I learned was on March 16, 2007.

“I was driving home from the VA Medical Center to see if I had prostate cancer from Agent Orange. It started to snow and I started to slide. I slowed way down, but it was like a sheet in front of me. I never saw the other car until I hit it. I got out and walked around the vehicle to assess the damage, and saw a young lady on the pavement. I was a police officer at the time. I started CPR right away and I still remember her husband screaming, and seeing the baby in the car. Both of them were uninjured, but the woman was unconscious for 45 minutes until the ambulance could get there. She lived a week. I had 5 broken ribs and a ruptured spleen, but I hadn’t felt a thing.

“In March 2017, her family had a 10 year anniversary of her passing. I went, and they all hugged me. Her mom said to me, ‘You know, it was not your fault. I’m not blaming her for not wearing her seatbelt, and I’m sure not blaming you. Accidents happen everyday.’

“I’ve learned that you make your own choices but you have to own your consequences. I’ve learned that life is made up of a million small moments. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, so we have to do as much as we can today. The military was the greatest thing I ever did. I made lifelong friends in the process. And while I’m not the most important person in the world, I sure can do my part to make a difference in it. We all can.”

Focus on the hello

I was feeling nostalgic today as it was one year ago that my husband returned from his fourth deployment. A few weeks ago, he came home from work, sat down at the kitchen table, and said, ‘I need to tell you something.’ He didn’t have to… I could see it on his face. Another deployment is on the horizon. But instead of focusing on the looming goodbye, I look at this picture and remember the hello.

At the time, I wrote: These are the moments that get you through the sleepless nights, the long days, the lonely holidays. It’s the dress whites, the pomp, the circumstance, the first kiss in almost a year— these are the moments you cherish as a military wife. Welcome home my love!!!

He is my hardest goodbye and my favorite hello. Here’s to the military spouses — may we always focus on the hello. 

💓 – T. T. 

Picture credit: the incredible Dyan Witt Photography

From Air Force brat to Airman’s wife

“I grew up as an Air Force brat. My dad, MSgt Chavez was active duty Air Force for 22 years, finally retiring in New Mexico in 2010. I was in college and working at the base Child Development Center when a coworker introduced me to her husband’s friend, and I instantly fell in love with him.  

“I appreciate the military life and how everyone around you becomes family. It is hard picking up and moving every few years, but having the opportunity to see places and meet people is truly a blessing. I am so proud to be a former Air Force Brat and now an Airman’s wife. It takes a truly great man to protect, honor, love and cherish his wife and children at home and 1,000 miles away. I will forever be grateful and proud of my SSgt Adams, my husband!”

My home is everywhere 

“I have long feared my daughters will be permanently scarred from a lifetime of impermanence. My middle one had to write about her hometown at school. This is what she wrote and I couldn’t be prouder. Military brats are amazing!”

Where I’m from
By S. Stobie

I am from the fort by the creek,
from Old Bay and Carvels.
I am from a tall brick home that faces the woods
Pretty and brand new
It felt like home
I am from the woods and the creek
From the tall trees that hid the ever flowing creek surrounded by frogs
I am from the birthday mornings and cross country road trips
From James and Kelly and Marie
I’m from movie quotes and the best cake in the neighborhood

I’m from Santa is real and Have fun storming the castle
I’m from Church on Sundays and a pink crystal rosary
I’m from New England
I’m from tacos and pizza
I’m from the car ride in a post office jeep that had no seatbelts
From the ambition and courage
I am from brains, brawn, athleticism, courage, extraordinary, and persistence.
I am from my home and my home is everywhere.