Three months after our daughter died, a local boy was killed in combat when his Stryker on patrol hit a buried explosive. I didn’t know his family, but joined the town to honor his sacrifice. Tears streamed down my face as the hearse carrying his remains drove slowly down Main Street. He was just 22 years old.
I met his mom that day, and she shared that her son’s foot was all they had left. It was all the coffin contained, the only thing left to bury.
We hugged long and hard, our wet faces revealing the private hell of two grieving mothers.
Since then, I’ve thought about her often and wondered what it might feel like to lose a loved one in combat. It’s a special kind of loss. The soldier sacrificed his own life with little pay and living conditions to fight for the freedom of people he’ll never meet.
The family sacrifices a child who followed his or her heart, only to return home in a coffin.
The young man I honored on the curb that day represents to me all the faceless soldiers who return home in a coffin.
To those who went before him, I’m grateful for your sacrifice.
To those who went after him, I’m grateful for your courage.
To the families left behind, your loved one will never be forgotten.
Because Memorial Day falls on my normal Monday night show, I couldn’t think of a guest more fitting for tonight than Bonnie Carroll, a military veteran, former White House staffer, and widow of Brigadier General Tom Carroll, who turned her pain into purpose by founding TAPS, a tragedy assistance program that has served over 75,000 military families.
Bonnie is the author of Healing Your Grieving Heart After A Military Death and has authored numerous articles on grief and trauma. She has appeared on CNN, FOX, NBC’s The Today Show, and other national programs speaking about military loss.
In addition to receiving the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom, Bonnie was featured in People Magazine as a Hero Among Us and received recognition as Washingtonian of the Year. She has also received the National Citizen Award from the Military Chaplains Association and the Faithfully Serving America Award from the American Legion. She was named a recipient of the Community Heroes Award by the Military Officers Association of America, and been recognized by the Defense Department with the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service, and has received the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Medal and the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award.
Bonnie divides time between her home in Anchorage, Alaska, and TAPS National Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
To our nation’s families who lose a military loved one, please know that each and every loved one is a true hero because of his or hers selfless sacrifice while serving our country. They will never be forgotten.