Editor’s note: The following updates a piece I wrote several years ago. Since then, the Folds of Honor has continued to help sons and daughters of fallen warriors. Would you consider helping them by going online to foldsofhonor.org?
The young and immaculate Marine’s hands were shaking. I watched as he meticulously, and with much ceremony, folded the American flag that had adorned my father’s casket.
That folding is known as the Folds of Honor.
A gun salute ensued while the bugler’s Taps sounded its proud but sorrowful song. My mother accepted the triangle of honor from the Marine, and my life was changed forever.
My dad had served two terms in the Korean War. He died at the age of 36 with a brain tumor that the doctors said he might have contracted while overseas. That service, held in St. Louis, was over half a century ago.
Many years later, I was sitting at a Bushnell press conference at the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoors Trade Show (SHOT) in Las Vegas. A woman in her college years told of how her father had been killed in a foreign war while fighting for our freedom.
Her story was tender and touched our hearts. She spoke of the hardships and hurdles she and her family faced following her father’s death.
And while she paused from time to time, her voice breaking, her message was uplifting. She spoke of a group called the Folds of Honor Foundation. She thanked them for helping pay her college expenses. And more than that, for helping her family cope with that tragic loss.
Founded by Major Dan Rooney in 2007, Folds of Honor provides educational scholarships to the spouses and children of service members disabled or killed during U.S. military service.
Rooney, a former F-16 pilot who served three tours in Iraq, also spoke that day, saying he founded Folds of Honor to ensure that families of fallen service members never have to endure alone.
While a passenger on a commercial flight, Rooney had witnessed an event that would profoundly change his life.
As the plane landed, the pilot announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an American hero on board, Corporal Brock Bucklin, and his twin brother, Corporal Brad Bucklin, is accompanying him home from Iraq. As a sign of respect, please remain seated while Corporal Bucklin’s family receives him in his final homecoming.”
Rooney had watched through the window of the plane as the flag-draped casket was lowered.
He saw a family waiting for Brock, and a four-year-old boy waiting for his father.
This tragic homecoming inspired him to create Folds of Honor.
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down, 87 percent of more than a million dependents affected by those wars did not qualify for federal scholarship assistance.
But as of 2015, Folds of Honor had provided 9,500 scholarships to the children of fallen warriors and the effort continues.
After Rooney spoke, country singer Craig Morgan sang a couple of poignant songs he had written for the foundation, and I found myself glad I had worn my sunglasses. I could see others quietly wiping away tears.
THE TWO DADS
The event brought to mind another special occasion, the military ceremony in Fort Hood, TX, for my step-father – my other dad – who had served in the Army in World War II and lived until he was 85 years old.
As Taps sounded from the hillside close by, my sister crumpled like a wilted flower. I held her close and whispered to her:
“Stand strong and proud sister. We are lucky. We have had two dads bestow upon us the Folds of Honor.”
For more information or to contribute to the Folds of Honor cause, go online to foldsofhonor.org.