29 May 2010

Book Review: Surviving the Folded Flag: Parents of war share stories of coping, courage and faith

Surviving the Folded Flag: Parents of War share stories of coping, courage, and faith is probably one of the most beautiful, and heart-breaking books you will ever read.

Deborah Tainsh, author and Gold Star Mom, has compiled the stories of over two dozen Gold Star Families. These families give us an answer to the question that is often asked about our fallen heroes: 'Where do we find such men and women?' Through the writings of these devastated parents, as they open their hearts and share their children with us, it is so apparent that every one of our heroes was the result of amazing parents.

In the acknowledgments for this book, Deb Tainsh says:

...I wish with all my heart that such a book as this never had to be written. But unfortunately, this is planet earth and...humans are burdened with not only the joys of living, but also the pain.

The pain in these pages cries out so loudly, that it is a painful book to read. With incredible honesty, each of the contributors to this book share their journey of initial denial, to anger, to unimaginable agony, and what they each do to survive such a loss. Many of them struggle with relationship issues within their marriages, as they try to come to terms with their own personal grief.

Having said that, this is a book also filled with tremendous courage and laughter, and so many memories. Each of the parents recounts the births and formative years of their beloved children.

US Army Chaplain Col. John C. Powledge says in the foreword:

...these are also stories of triumph, and in each families story we find the reason for America's strength...

Indeed we do, and as we meet each of the families sharing their children with us, it is evident in every word, just how strong are the families of our fallen that nurture and raise the future heroes of the nation.

The first story is of a hero who was killed on 9/11 at the Pentagon: Navy Electronics Tech 1 Ronald Hemenway. Ronald, says mom Shirley, was a precious gift from the moment of his birth, arriving almost exactly a year after their second son, Dale, had died at six months old. Ronald was a boy who loved reading, especially encyclopedias. He also discovered a love of horses which led to an initial career in the equestrian field. Later Ronald shocked his family when he came home and told them he had joined the Navy. In 1995 he graduated at Great Lakes as the Distinguished Military Graduate of his electronics class. Stationed in Italy, he met the woman he would marry, and was finally selected - in March 2000 - from many applicants to move to Bolling Airforce Base in DC to work in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.

A loving son, and a devoted husband to Marinella, Ronald's remains were never found. All though the day of 9/11, Shirley shares that they searched every avenue for information about Ronald, but none was found. She tells in excruciating detail of those terrible days, and how it was her family, and her church, that gathered together for strength and comfort. On March 11, 2002, Ronald's Marinella held a memorial service for Ronald, whose marker sits in Section F in Arlington, at the top of a steep hill next to a WW2 soldier.

Shirley describes how some people had trouble talking to her about her son, because no remains were ever found, and this seems to be a common theme throughout the family stories in this book. Many of the families say the loss of their child in this war changed their relationships with those around them forever. Another prevalent theme in all the lives, is how each family has chosen to focus on doing things that add meaning to the sacrifice they have made, to honour their children.

Ronald's parents became involved with TAPS, where they give back to other parents walking the same path as they find themselves on. They have also been to GITMO, as have other 9/11 families. Their health has suffered, and Shirley writes:

When we hear the word closure our response is that closure would only exist if only we could wrap our arms around Ronald again.

She knows this is not to be, and draws joy and reason to move on through their other children and grandchildren.

The importance of family - and respect for our fallen - is a major theme throughout this book...

Go to Assoluta Tranquillita here to read more, and find out how you can order your own copy.

No comments: