“When our youngest son, Jimmy, decided to join the Air Force, I wasn’t really happy about it, but I also wasn’t surprised. My husband is a 20 year veteran of the Air Force, and the boys grew up in the military. That’s all they knew.
“He was going to college when he decided to enlist in 2008. He came home after basic, and we went to visit him a few times at Eglin Air Force Base where he was stationed. Before he deployed, we took a trip with our two boys and their fiancees to New York City. My husband and I are both from there, but the boys hadn’t been. It was just so much fun. We played tourists. We took them to Little Italy, the World Trade Center Memorial, Chinatown, all these places where we’d been. It was such a special moment in time.
“Soon after the trip, Jimmy deployed. He didn’t want us to come visit before he left. He said it was no big deal. It wasn’t like he was going out in a big group — he had volunteered to take someone else’s spot on rotation who was sick. That was our Jimmy. He was quiet, but he had a core group of 10 guys that were always together, and a best friend, and his fiancee. They were inseparable. He loved to play golf, and play the drums (loudly) while his brother played the bass guitar. Jimmy got into running in order to lose weight for a physical fitness test, and he loved it. He had a baby face, so when he was doing a gate to gate run at Eglin, they were all just half-way there and Jimmy was already on his way back. The Commander asked, ‘Who is that kid?’ That boy could run!
“We skyped with Jimmy the Saturday before he was killed. We had just put a new deck on the house and were having a party and wanted him to see everyone. I remember his roommate was on night shifts, so Jimmy couldn’t talk – he didn’t want to wake him up. But we showed him the deck and he got to see everyone. We talked to him every week and we wrote a lot of letters. He had just run the Air Force half marathon and he was all excited about that. He was doing a challenge on the base in order to win a t-shirt. He’d done 491 miles in 4 months. After he died, his squadron in Iraq finished his run, and his best friend there brought me Jimmy’s t-shirt that he would have earned.
“On September 10, 2010, my husband and I were both at work when the military car pulled up to our house. We lived in a small farm town in Michigan. Our neighbors knew Jimmy was deployed; they knew what was going on. They went to my husband’s work first and got him. I was working as a supervisor at a factory at the time, and was out on the floor when a woman from Human Resources came to get me. I didn’t know why, but figured it had something to do with one of the employees. It’s a Japanese company, so we had a special room that we only used if foreign dignitaries were in town. She led me to the room, and then I was really confused as to what was happening. They opened the door and there was my husband and three Air Force colonels. And then, I knew exactly what that meant. But I was in total disbelief. I just couldn’t understand. We didn’t know any of the details but were told we had three hours to notify family and friends before the news would be released by the press.
“Jimmy was on a base. He was in Iraq, but he wasn’t in combat, so I just couldn’t understand how he died. We were told he was killed when a bomb went off but we weren’t told anything more than that, really. We didn’t know what actually happened until February – five months later. Jimmy had been rewarded by his leadership to get to watch the EOD guys detonate captured ordnance. There were 6 guys that were chosen to help the EODs, and one of the EODs had a birthday that day, so they wanted to do something ‘really big’ for him. It was a mess of mistakes. Jimmy was one of the six chosen to help. The EOD guys didn’t follow regulations and Jimmy was killed instantly during the second blast when shrapnel went through his chest. The Air Force brought charges against three of the EOD sergeants, and we had to sit through 2 years of trials. We had had enough. We just wanted to grieve the loss of our son.
“When we came home from the dignified transfer at Dover, there was a two mile stretch of highway that was lined with people supporting us, and Jimmy. It was truly humbling. Our entire town rallied around us. Businesses had signs up, everyone waved flags, and Jimmy got the welcome home he deserved. We were never alone.
“Being a Gold Star Mother, people don’t know what to say to you. Even when I went back to work, people would turn a corner to avoid talking to me. It wasn’t mean-spirited, but I know they didn’t know what to say or were afraid they’d hurt me somehow. People will say they just can’t imagine losing a child, and they don’t know how you get through it. The truth is, Jimmy wouldn’t want me sitting around moping. His death doesn’t define me. Please don’t be afraid to ask me about my son. Ask me what he was like — I want him to be remembered. I want to tell his story; I want to tell my story. Jimmy loved being in the Air Force and I will always be so proud of him.”
In loving memory of James “Jimmy” Hansen, May 24,1985 – September 15, 2010